Friday, 14 October 2016

The Christmas Cake Cafe - Sue Watson

About the book… 

Heart-warming and hilarious, a story that will make you laugh, cry and bring a smile to your face.  Get ready for another deliciously amazing Christmas treat from Sue Watson…. 

As the Prosecco chills and Bing Crosby croons, Jen Barker just knows that her long-term boyfriend is about to propose.  But instead of a diamond ring nestled in her champagne flute, Jen finds cold flat rejection.  Her once perfect life and dreams of a husband and family seem even further from reach.  

A working holiday to the Swiss Alps with her younger sister Jody might not be the Christmas Jen had it mind, but it offers her the chance to recharge her batteries and recover from heartbreak. 

When Jen meets handsome ski instructor Jon Zutter her hopes for a happy-ever-after seem within her grasp again. Jon is kind and gorgeous and as they bond over Sachetorte at the picturesque Cake CafĂ©, Jen thinks he might just be her perfect man. But a relationship with him comes with a catch – and there are some things even cake can’t fix. 

As the snow falls and Christmas approaches, could this be the place that restores Jen Barker’s faith in love? 

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 About the author… 

Sue Watson was a TV Producer with the BBC who combined motherhood and family life with a busy career. However, one day it dawned on Sue that Cosmo magazine may have been telling porkies about 'having it all,' and her life had become a slightly crazed juggling act. 

So after much soul searching (and comfort eating) Sue abandoned her TV career, bought a pink laptop and wrote a novel. 'Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes,' tells the story of Stella Weston, whose life is a constant struggle with a nasty boss at work, the weighing scales and being a mum, wife and daughter. 

Originally from Manchester, Sue now lives with her husband and teenage daughter in Worcestershire. When she's not toiling over her latest novel, Sue bakes (and eats) cake and enjoys very large tubs of Caramel Chew Chew ice cream all to herself while watching 'The Biggest Loser USA.' 

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My thoughts…

Imagine, ten years into a relationship and you think your boyfriend is finally going to propose. It's Christmas eve, The setting is perfect, a romantic meal for two in a restaurant with champagne and christmas tunes on the music system. Jen, just knows Tim is going to propose and is waiting for the perfect moment in the evening.  When the big speech finally comes it's not to ask her hand in marriage and to declare everlasting love, it's to shatter her dreams and walk out of her life forever.

Oh me oh my what a beginning.  Jen was devastated beyond words, the ten best years of her life taken and tossed aside by Tim who quite frankly was a supercilious ass - it would be fair to say first impressions count and mine were quite strong and didn't change.

This book has it all - relationships, family, love, laughter, friendship and the biggest amount of humour and cake you can imagine - absolutely perfect.  Clearly no stone has been left unturned as Jen soul searches, looking for her happy ever after and gaining more than an insight into her own soul.  Sue has captured the characteristics of a relationship going through the motions perfectly.  Nothing Jen ever did was good enough and Tim was a mean spirited, small minded ejit - have I said yet how much I disliked him!?  Belittling and side lining Jen at every opportunity.  She just wanted someone of her own to care for and love, whilst Tim wanted to mould her into someone else - chipping away at her character and eroding her confidence.  A relationship based on familiarity and convenience not love and friendship.  When Jen was a child her parents divorced and she had to share her dad with his new wife and baby, something she resented and never quite came to terms with, so it's no wonder she clung onto a dead relationship for so long - it's only in adulthood and because of circumstances that Jen and Jody form a tentative bond each understanding the other a whole lot better.

Almost a year later Jody, persuades Jen to join her and a couple of friends working in Switzerland over the winter months. The story from hereon-in reads like a slalom skier going full pelt down a black run.  With Jen hurtling from one disaster to another.  Sue has a natural ability to write comedy that had me choking on my lunch whilst trying to hold in my guffaws at work - her books have the feel good factor about them that won't fail to lift even the lowest spirits.  They're fun, easy reads but each and every story is multi-faceted.  They're not just light humour but thought provoking and The Christmas Cake Cafe is my favourite so far.  In life some people lose sight of what is important and do things or stay in relationships out of habit more than desire and it's not until they are removed from the situation do they start to question their thoughts and actions.  Jen is no different, as her half sister and her friends drag her kicking and screaming into their madcap plans she suffers inner and outer turmoil and begins to question her own life, hopes and dreams and the relationships within it. 

As I turned the pages my smiles became wider as the humorous bits, become hilarious bits and then Sue throws a bit of love and romance  into the mix and we're off!  I laughed out loud so many times, putting my hand over my mouth as I mouthed oh no until my sides ached. It would be fair to say 'the girls' idea of a working holiday is different to that of mine but then, I like Jen am old ;D

I've grumbled so many times that there wasn't enough cake in the last couple of Sue's books - No more! This time I was spoilt.  I so want to go to Switzerland and taste all the delicious cakes.  Sue has an amazing ability to describe something in such detail it becomes a reality - I've always thought it decadent and wrong to order more than one cake and always struggle to choose - no more I'm going to order half a dozen and try them all. 

Huge thanks Sue for another perfect read that got under my skin, a little bit of soul searching and a lot of laughs. This was beautiful story about friendship, family and discovering what is important in life with a little bit of love and flirting thrown in for good measure - until the next time! 

I've said it before but I'll say it again. Sue Watson's books keep getting better and better, with the bar raised a little more each time - if you haven't discovered this for yourself yet you are seriously missing out. Head to Amazon and indulge yourself in this beautiful read - The Christmas Cake Cafe, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

We”ll Always Have Paris - Sue Watson

Is it ever too late for a second chance at first love?

About the book… 
A charming, moving second-chance love story for fans of Thursdays in the Park, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Last Tango in Halifax.
Does first love deserve a second chance?
When she was almost seventeen, Rosie Draper locked eyes with a charismatic student called Peter during their first week at art college, changing the course of her life forever. Now, on the cusp of sixty-five and recently widowed, Rosie is slowly coming to terms with a new future. And after a chance encounter with Peter, forty-seven years later, they both begin to wonder ‘what if’ . . .
Told with warmth, wit and humour, We’ll Always Have Paris is a charming, moving and uplifting novel about two people; the choices they make, the lives they lead and the love they share.
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About the Author...

Sue Watson was a journalist on women's magazines and national newspapers before working in a career in TV where she was a producer with the BBC. She has published six novels, her most well-known being Love, Lies and Lemon Cake. Originally from Manchester, Sue now lives in the Midlands and writes full time.

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My thoughts…

Where to begin?  It's no secret how much I love Sue Watson and her writing - she has characters that are engaging and so very true to life. Stories that provide the perfect amount of escapism but you don't have to totally suspend belief - they're realistic, touching and heart warming with a generous helping of fun and laughter to counter balance the more serious aspects.

We'll Always Have Paris is a story packed tightly with love, family. friendship, and hope.  It's about a family drifting through each day without a rudder to guide them.  Mike, husband to Rosie, father to daughters Anna and Isobel passed away, taken by the dreadful curse that is cancer; just six short weeks after diagnosis.  

Married for over forty years Rosie is struggling to get back to normal.  A year has passed and she realises that she has to start to regain some normality in her life, to do things for herself and begin living again.  She goes back to work in the florist shop she owns and runs with her daughters.  She finds just being out of the house is a big enough step for her to begin with - the thought of facing everyones sympathy face to face is too much so she takes a role in the background preparing the flowers for a big wedding.

A chance meeting whilst accompanying Anna to deliver the wedding flowers with a man, who as a teenager was the love of her life literally knocks Rosie for six. Peter is equally reeling, they haven't seen each other for over 40 years.

I can only imagine the tug of love played out in Rosie's mind as she was drawn to Peter and the 'perfect' memories of teenage love, then the heart stopping guilt because she feels she shouldn't be happy because the man she married is dead.  After all she's a widow and is still grieving.  Feeling immense guilt because she loved Mike, but he wasn't the love of her life. That was Peter, something Mike always knew but he still loved and cherished her all the same.  

The more I read of this book the more entranced I became.  Through this book Sue demonstrates how grief and grieving is a process.  There isn't a rule book and it can also be a positive thing.  Somehow, grief can empower people, giving purpose, focus as a result of reflection - this was certainly the case for Rosie.  

Grief affects us in different ways and takes differing amounts of time for people to come to terms with their loss. The wanting and needing to move on versus the guilt for being the one left behind enjoying life is all too apparent as Rosie struggles with her inner self.  At the same time she also has to consider the feelings of her daughters.   They're so busy looking out for their mother their own grief is on hold.  It's a complete role reversal that though well meant, in the end comes across as patronising - they have become the parent and she Rosie, the child.  

Through Rosie Sue demonstrates how we often look back at life through rose tinted glasses, remembering the good bits and erasing from our memories the worst bits.  It's easy to forget that young people have fewer commitments and don't often look beyond the here and now so everything was perfect then. Peter's re-arrival in Rosie's life is the catalyst, the turning point for Rosie.  When shrouded in grief she could only see herself as a widow.  With Peter back in her life, a friend to share happy memories with she finds the strength and begins the process of taking control of her life, stepping back into the shoes of her other roles.  That of Mother, grandmother and daughter. Connecting with her daughters on a much closer level, sharing her past and the events in her life that have shaped her. 

We'll Always Have Paris has a strong storyline that each and everyone of us can relate to.  It has family at the heart of it, led by a mother who always has her children's best interest at heart. The connection and understanding between mothers and daughters not always evident until they too become parents and face the same challenges - loving and protecting them, making decisions based upon experience. The older characters were perfect for this story about reflection, the dynamics of family life and taking second chances - with age comes maturity and understanding.  We all, I'm sure, can remember a time when we couldn't understand our parents reasoning and thought they was just being deliberately mean or awkward but as mature adults, perhaps as parents ourselves suddenly 'see the light' and get it.  It's a book that highlights the need to take chances, to live your dreams as we only have one life after all - life is too short and we shouldn't lose sight of our own hopes and aspirations whilst nurturing those of the people closest to us - it is still possible to achieve them whilst helping others achieve their own. Grief shouldn't be, but is often is the thing that gives us a kick up the bum to live our lives a little fuller.

I just loved this book, it's taken me three hours to try to put into words how much I loved it and I'm still not happy, I haven't done it justice.   It's such a thought provoking, reflective story told from the heart.  I smiled and savoured the raspberry macaroons - thank you Sue! Whilst at the same time laughing to myself as I thought about the many texts I receive off my daughter on a weekly basis, checking up on me - asking me where I am, what time I'll be home and telling me to ring when I arrive somewhere.  I'm not quite sure when I became the child and my daughter the mother but it has slowly happened in this house too!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Play Dead - Angela Marsons

About the book… 
The dead don’t tell secrets… unless you listen. 

The girl’s smashed-in face stared unseeing up to the blue sky, soil spilling out of her mouth. A hundred flies hovered above the bloodied mess. 

Westerley research facility is not for the faint-hearted. A ‘body farm’ investigating human decomposition, its inhabitants are corpses in various states of decay. But when Detective Kim Stone and her team discover the fresh body of a young woman, it seems a killer has discovered the perfect cover to bury their crime. 

Then a second girl is attacked and left for dead, her body drugged and mouth filled with soil. It’s clear to Stone and the team that a serial killer is at work – but just how many bodies will they uncover? And who is next? 

As local reporter, Tracy Frost, disappears, the stakes are raised. The past seems to hold the key to the killer’s secrets – but can Kim uncover the truth before a twisted, damaged mind claims another victim …? 

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About the author… 
Angela discovered a love of writing at Primary School when a short piece on the rocks and the sea gained her the only merit point she ever got.

Angela wrote the stories that burned inside and then stored them safely in a desk drawer.

After much urging from her partner she began to enter short story competitions in Writer's News resulting in a win and three short listed entries.

She used the Amazon KDP program to publish two of her earlier works before concentrating on her true passion - Crime.

After many, many submissions Angela was signed in a 4 book deal to as their first crime author.  Her first book SILENT SCREAM was published in February 2015 and was an #1 Amazon best seller.

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My thoughts…
Angela's latest book Play Dead - absolutely, definitely was on my list of must read books, I literally couldn’t wait to start.

Play Dead is the fourth book in the D.I. Kim Stone, detective, thriller series and is equally as gripping and terrifyingly, breathe holding as the first.  As ever, Kim is on the hunt for a serial killer, this time the case is discovered whilst visiting a body farm.  Kim identifies a newer body than those she's there to look at and so begins the hunt for the person who has brutally murdered a young girl, dumping her at a supposedly secret to the public location.  Westerley research facility is studying the decomposition of the human body by natural elements and insects - my stomach is still turning at the thoughts and images evoked whilst reading this book.  Yet, Angela has the knack of delivering just the right amount of detail to be realistic, stopping just short of the need to have me committed to a secure unit as a gibbering wreck.  

Play Dead is very similar to the rest of the series in that the main character is a constant.  Kim Stone is still the brash, matter of fact, hard nosed inspector hell bent on solving a crime - breaking the rules, yet knowing just how far she can push her boss and her team before pulling back.  She has the knack of shutting out the here and now and getting under the skins of the victims and everyone around her.  Despite the gruelling pace she expects her team to work under it's clear they have her back - working a mind numbing number of hours when necessity calls.

Angela Marsons, in Kim Stone drives the narrative at an alarming rate, I literally couldn't put this book down.  Just how many bodies were going to be discovered in the same shocking manner before the case was solved?  This had me reading faster and faster. If I read quicker and got to the end, perhaps I'll save a few people - shocking, unbelievable but it's how I felt.  She really does get under your skin, with characters that are flawed but likeable.

As ever when reading a crime book I like to second guess which character is the guilty one. In Play Dead I guessed, second guessed, third guessed and sat with just pages to go with my mouth open - totally shocked.  At one point I partially guessed but then dismissed the whole idea as ridiculous.  I didn't see that ending coming at all.  The characters are complex and all seem to have a side we as the reader are not privy to, hence questioning everyone's motives. 

I can't tell you how massively brilliant this book and whole series is.  Each could be read as stand alone books but by reading the whole series you'll get a greater insight into what makes D. I. Kim Stone tick.  She really is a multi-faceted, diamond of a character. Sharp, shiny and at the top of her game - four books into this series and there are a few smoothed edges, almost as if she's becoming comfortable with her readers so revealing more of herself.

I can only say if ever I had the need of a detective that would leave no stone unturned and rip the clues apart in pursuit of a serial killer - Kim Stone would be the first, in fat only person I'd call.  Thank you Angela for another book of escapism that is just that little bit too close to reality to ever be a comfortable read - I like the edge of seat, heart hammering experience you provide - until the next time.