Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Both of `You - Adele Parks

About the book… 

Leigh Fletcher: happily married stepmum to two gorgeous boys goes missing on Monday. Her husband Mark says he knows nothing of her whereabouts. She simply went to work and just never came home. Their family is shattered.

Kai Janssen: married to wealthy Dutch businessman, Daan, vanishes the same week. Kai left their luxurious penthouse and glamourous world without a backward glance. She seemingly evaporated into thin air. Daan is distraught.

DC Clements knows that people disappear all the time – far too frequently. Most run away from things, some run towards, others are taken but find their way back. A sad few never return. These two women are from very different worlds, their disappearances are unlikely to be connected. And yet, at a gut level, the DC believes they are.

How could these women walk away from their families, husbands and homes willingly? Clements is determined to unearth the truth, no matter how shocking and devastating it may be

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About the author… 

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, NE England. Since graduating from Leicester University, where she studied English Language and Literature, she’s worked in advertising and as a management consultant. In 2010 she was proud to be awarded an honorary doctorate of Letters from Teesside University.

She’d always dreamed of being a writer and her first novel - Playing Away - was published in 2000; that year the Evening Standard identified her as one of London’s ‘Twenty Faces to Watch’, which was very nice of them!

She likes to keep busy and is pretty flattered when she’s described as one of the most-loved and biggest-selling women’s fiction writers in the UK, (who wouldn’t like that?!) 4 million copies of her UK editions have been sold and have been translated into more than 30 different languages. This is her 21st novel, previous include the number one bestsellers Lies Lies Lies and Just My Luck. All her novels examines issues that are important to us all. She likes to scrutinize our concepts of family, our theories on love, parenting and fidelity with (I hope) honesty and humour. Whatever period she sets her novels she’s known for examining the thorny issues of the lives people lead with my trademark, up-front, tell-it-as-it-is style.

During her career she’s lived in Italy, Botswana and London. Now lives happily in Guildford, Surrey with her husband, teenage son and cat.

Read more about her life and books on her website.

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My thoughts…

Both of You is a novel that is dark, chilling, claustrophobic and unnerving in equal measures.  We join the story as an unknown woman wakes chained to a radiator in an airless, concrete floored  room. Her anxiety and confusion set the tone for the subsequent encounters with her, but who is she and why is she there? What an opener, who is she? Within days we find not one but two local women have been reported missing bu their husbands.

The author introduces us to Leigh and her family, the reader very quickly learning that Leigh, second wife of Mark and step-mum to Seb and Oli was having a hard time of it at home, the boys who she had nurtured and loved for the past ten years since marrying their father after a whirlwind romance are growing away from her.  Elder son Oli in particular had become withdrawn and quite mean in his comments - she was sad and the aching hole their withdrawal had created was palpable, her sadness peeled off the page. Her sadness was evident especially as she was clearly happy to send them off for a week visiting Mark’s family, happy for the time and space to just be.  However, when the trio returned there was no sign of Leigh and my brain instantly went into overdrive, had she left them or was she the woman chained and confused, had she been abducted, if so why and by whom?

Mark was at a loss, his equilibrium clearly shattered without Leigh in the place she should be, dependable by his side when he and the boys returned home.  He reported her missing, his pain and helplessness at odds with his mindset that she was just away working - not able to fully accept that she really could be missing.  Within days we hear that a second person Kai Jannsen has also gone missing.  The two women are polar opposites in character, style and wealth - there doesn’t appear to be anything to link the two other than when they disappeared.  Everything feels a bit odd, not helped by the police officers attitude and demeanour - they were detached and remote, distant and didn’t seem to be taking their disappearances overly seriously.

I was hooked, I needed to mentally find them, turning the pages at a rate of knots to try and get some traction on the thoughts swimming through my mind.  Clues hung tantalisingly out of reach, moving just that little bit further away as I grabbed for them. For every small clue I thought I’d un-covered I had dozens of questions - it was like trying to do a jigsaw that someone had hidden away half the pieces. I just couldn’t find the link or connection.

The story was expertly layered with multi-faceted characters that all had the potential to be at the heart of the women’s disappearance, I second guessed every word, and played back each scenario in my mind, second guessing and doubting everything both written and imagined. The pacing, measured and steady building until the clues started slotting into place.  I found myself muttering and explaining out loud, exclaiming “why did I not see that” when I realised just how many clues were hiding in plain sight. They were so subtle and obvious when I realised but they didn’t even come close to hitting my radar. 

This really was a book that was gripping to the very end, Adele Parks turns family life and dynamics on it’s head - I’m so happy and relieved to be living my quiet, suburban life but so was Leigh - wasn’t she?  An intricately woven tale that is so far removed from every day life but so very very plausible, yet shocking and beyond belief.  A totally compelling and addictive read.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

And Now You’re Back - Jill Mansell

About the book… 

The most heart-warming novel you'll read this year ... from the Sunday Times bestselling author of IT STARTED WITH A SECRET

One magical winter's night in Venice, Didi fell in love. But it ended - and he left without even saying goodbye.

Now, thirteen years on, Shay Mason is back.

The old spark is still there, but Didi's determined to ignore it. As manager of a stunning Cotswolds hotel, she's happy at last, and soon to be married. Anyway, Shay isn't staying. He's made a promise to his father. He's going to keep it. And then he'll be gone.

But Shay's return stirs up long-forgotten emotions, and the scandal that led him to leave raises its head once again. It's time for buried secrets to come to light. And it seems that this was someone's intention all along . . .

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About the author… 

Jill Mansell is the author of over twenty Sunday Times bestsellers including The One You Really Want and Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay. Take a Chance on Me won the RNA’s Romantic Comedy Prize, and in 2015 the RNA presented Jill with an outstanding achievement award.

Jill’s personal favourite amongst her novels is Three Amazing Things About You, which is about cystic fibrosis and organ donation; to her great delight, many people have joined the organ donor register as a direct result of reading this novel.

Jill started writing fiction while working in the field of Clinical Neurophysiology in the NHS, but now writes full time. She lives in Bristol with her family.

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My thoughts…

I've always loved books by Jill Mansell - she's one of a stock few authors that I can rely on to give me a book that hits the spot every time. A feel good book that's not all hearts and flowers, there is always a deeper story to discover that will leaving me smiling.

We meet Didi and Shay as teenagers in Venice. Both there as guests, to celebrate friend Layla’s 18th birthday. A more romantic start to a book you couldn’t imagine. It’s the early hours of the morning, it’s snowing and Didi unable to sleep, goes out into the snow, finding herself in St Marks Square where she sees Shay building a snowman. They’re friends by association, from polar opposite backgrounds yet are drawn to each other, she helps him with the snowman, they end up playing in the snow, sharing a bottle of Prosecco and sharing a magical moment that kickstarts their short lived romance. A romance that was doomed from the start, Didi’s family are wealthy, owners of a luxury hotel, Shay only has his dad, a dad that lives the life of a criminal, in and out of jail - Shay has had to fend for himself, is hard working but not 100% trusted. An incident occurs and when his name is put in the frame as ‘like father like son’, their fledgling relationship crumbles.

Fast forward 13 years and Didi is now the manager of her parents hotel when she comes face to face with her past. Shay is back in town, his father’s seriously ill, his dying wish is to end his days in the home Shay grew up in. To say Didi is shocked to see him would be an understatement - she’s engaged to be married but her equilibrium is seriously rocked on its axis. She never expected to see him again and definitely not in her parents hotel! The chemistry is evident and as a reader you knew there would be more to this tale - the inner turmoil and obvious attraction leapt off the pages but I loved the fact that there was respect that life had moved on for both of them - oh but I crossed my fingers that they would reignite what was kindled in Venice.

As in any Jill Mansell book there is a plethora of characters that add depth to the story. In this case their stories don’t just add depth but are integral to the plot. Their stories beautifully stitched together and in enough detail too - Rosa, widowed mother of Didi’s best friend Layla was one of the most beautiful, kind hearted characters I’ve encountered in a long while. Her heart was breaking, yet she still found a place in it to show friendship, kindness and empathy to Red, Shay’s dad - a hardened criminal that despite being ill most other people would have shunned.

Then there was best friend Layla, Rosa’s daughter.  She was adorable, such a trusting, gorgeous character, I absolutely loved reading about her on line dating and budding romance.  However, I was shouting from the sidelines for her to see what was under her nose though. 

The virtual tango of Didi and Shay was at the heart of And Now You’re Back obviously, both honourable in their present lives, but clearly still attracted to each other, drawn like magnets, then repelling each other as life had moved on for both of them - after all, they’re no longer 18 and have their lives mapped out - their story pulled at my heart strings.  There had to be a way to come back together.  Their past and present colliding, had to be fate, secrets from the past are revealed that highlight you shouldn’t make assumptions - not everything or everyone is who they seem.

I loved how Jill counter balanced the more serious, sad parts with humour, romance and wit. Once again I finished a Jill Mansell book with a satisfied sigh, glad that almost everyone seemed to get their happy ending. This is a compelling read, for anybody who loves contemporary, romantic novels, with some serious elements to add depth and bones to the story. It's gentle enough for a quiet Saturday afternoon but with enough plot twists and surprises to keep the pages turning, you'll want to get to the bottom of the many inter woven stories.

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Monday, 14 June 2021

Waiting to Begin - Amanda Prowse

About the book… 

From the bestselling author of The Girl in the Corner comes a story that asks: what would you risk for a shot at happiness?

1984. Bessie is a confident sixteen-year-old girl with the world at her feet, dreaming of what life will bring and what she’ll bring to this life. Then everything comes crashing down. Her bright and trusting smile is lost, banished by shame—and a secret she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.

2021. The last thirty-seven years have not been easy for Bess. At fifty-three she is visibly weary, and her marriage to Mario is in tatters. Watching her son in newlywed bliss—the hope, the trust, the joy—Bess knows it is time to face her own demons, and try to save her relationship. But she’ll have to throw off the burden of shame if she is to honour that sixteen-year-old girl whose dreams lie frozen in time.

Can Bess face her past, finally come clean to Mario, and claim the love she has longed to fully experience all these years?

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About the author… 

Amanda Prowse is an International Bestselling author whose twenty seven novels and seven novellas have been published in dozens of languages around the world. Published by Lake Union, Amanda is the most prolific writer of bestselling contemporary fiction in the UK today; her titles also consistently score the highest online review approval ratings across several genres. Her books, including the chart topping No.1 titles 'What Have I Done?', 'Perfect Daughter', 'My Husband's Wife', 'The Girl in the Corner', 'The Things I Know' and ‘The Day She Came Back’ have sold millions of copies across the globe.

A popular TV and radio personality, Amanda is a regular panellist on Channel 5's 'The Jeremy Vine Show' and numerous daytime ITV programmes. She also makes countless guest appearances on BBC national independent Radio stations including LBC and Talk FM, where she is well known for her insightful observations and her infectious humour. Described by the Daily Mail as 'The queen of family drama' Amanda's novel, 'A Mother's Story' won the coveted Sainsbury's eBook of the year Award while 'Perfect Daughter' was selected as a World Book Night title in 2016.

Amanda's ambition is to create stories that keep people from turning the bedside lamp off at night, great characters that ensure you take every step with them and tales that fill your head so you can't possibly read another book until the memory fades...

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Say hello on Twitter:  @MrsAmandaProwse

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Visit my Amazon Author Page:  Amanda Prowse Author  

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My thoughts…

Waiting to Begin centres around Bessie’s life, yo-yo’ing back and forth between 1984 and 2021.  Her life as a happy, innocent 16 year old, with plans for the future in and the reality of today aged 53.

This was such a nostalgic read.  I loved reading of Bess and best friend Michelle’s hopes and dreams - the music, the clothes, the food, the innocence, a time of simple pleasures and big plans - it took me right back to when I was 16 in 1984. 

Fast forward to 2021 and life for Bess should be bliss, she’s married to devoted husband Mario, has two beautiful children but she’s not living her best life.  She’s internalised her feelings and is floating through life, existing but not living.

Several things happened in her past that shaped her future and her life comes crashing down on her 53rd birthday.  Her birthday should be a day to be celebrated, but a voice from the past unlocks a torrent of emotion that pushes her to a place she’s not sure she can return from.

The characterisations and raw emotion of Bess’s interactions with her family on the day of her 53rd birthday were intense and amplified the story, it was like the words we as readers read were written in another unidentifiable language for Bess  - as a reader I felt she was walking a thin line, I felt anxious for her and wondered which way the story would go.  Her husband, children, best friend and parents all there for her on the day, wishing her happy birthday but Bessie was so broken transported back to 1984 in her mind that their kind words and wishes fell on deaf ears - the inner voice in her head telling her she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t enough - she was a failure louder. She’d lived the best part of three decades going through the motions, existing not living and had become quite bitter, mean and dismissive with it.

As the story unravelled my opinions and thoughts of Bess spanned every emotion possible.  I pitied her, felt sad for her, felt her pain and anguish but at times didn’t really like the person she had become, small minded and at times quite mean and unfeeling - particularly where her parents were concerned. I loved them, their life pretty much stuck in the past, enjoying the simple pleasures of life - their love of their family shone from the pages, outwardly proud of them all no matter what.  With knowledge and the full story I came to a greater understanding of Bess’s character and my heart broke at the years wasted, how she’d lived with the consequences of both her own and her peers words and actions of that summers day back in 1984.

Waiting to Begin was both painful and endearing to read in equal measures book. Highlighting the importance of family, trust, communication and the power of words and actions.  They can shatter or lift a person depending on that persons state of mind at the time.  How decisions made at times of high emotion can shape and impact our lives without us ever realising quite how much.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2021

A Family Affair - Julie Houston

About the book… 

Joining the family business was never going to be easy...

Frankie Piccione is done running away from her responsibilities, well for now anyway. Having escaped Westenbury after suffering a shattered heart, it's time to take up her place on the family board. Piccione's Pickles and Preserves needs Frankie. Frankie knows she can make the business work. But with her brother Luca and the new, rather attractive, Cameron Mancini watching her every move, she's going to have to come up with something special to get them off her back and recognising she belongs on the board just as much as they do.

With the help of her Aunt Pam and best friend, Daisy, Frankie is thriving with her new sense of purpose. Until someone from her past walks right back into it...

Perfect for fans of Heidi Swain, Milly Johnson and Marian Keyes.

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About the author… 

Julie Houston is Yorkshire born and bred. She lives in Huddersfield where her novels are set and her only claims to fame are that she taught at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old school, her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author Joanne Harris and her friend is about to marry Tracy Emin’s cousin! Oh, and she was rescued by Frank Bough when, many years ago, she was ‘working as a waitress in a cocktail bar’ at the Kensington Hilton in London.

After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country.

She now teaches part time, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the last thirteen years, and, when not distracted by ebay, genealogy (so time consuming but so interesting - she recently discovered her husband is descended from the poet Shelley and the Duke of Milan!!) and crosswords, she spends much of her time writing.

Julie is married, has a nineteen-year-old son and sixteen-year-old daughter and a mad cockapoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book.

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My thoughts…

A Family Affair is typical of a Julie Houston novel - it sucked me in and enveloped me straight into the story, and into the lives of Pam and Frankie, aunt and niece, it had me oohing, ahhing, muttering and awwing in equal measures from the very beginning.

The story centres around both their lives. Pam’s life see-saws back and to over a 50 year period, whilst Frankie's spans just a few - both of them part of the Piccione Pickles and Preserves family. Both meet the man of their dreams only for fate to twist its cruel knife and leave them following a different path in life, the ‘one that got away’ leaving a hole that time has been impossible to fill.

I loved that the story centred around a family of Italian, or should I say Sicilian descent, I virtually travelled with them, the descriptions of the food - ohhhhhh I literally drooled, it really was delicious. Once again Julie Houston has created characters that were relatable and warranted the time I invested, cheerleading them through the story of their lives. Pam and Frankie’s stories told 50 years apart but almost parallel, the similarities and bumps in the road so very similar. I loved that despite everything, underneath it all, the strong women they were shone through. I so wish I had an auntie Pam cheerleading and guiding from the sides.

As ever, Julie relayed their stories, surrounding them with a supporting cast of family, friends and neighbours - everyone seemingly connected to each other in some way - so and so's brother's, sister's, mother's, uncle that married .... You get the picture? I thought I'd never keep up but it all slotted together, I'm glad to say and there wasn't a single one that I thought was un-necessary to the plot. Some I liked more than others, but that's real life isn't it?

It's a story with more than a little romance, a story steeped in mystery and secrets that were revealed slowly throughout the book. There's more than one love interest, lots of heartbreak and sadness, but for me Pam is the star of the show. Julie’s ability to create multi-faceted characters is second to none - polishing them just a little more with each chapter until they shine and can stand alone - I totally loved this book. The fact that topics that were taboo in the 70’s are at the heart of the back story yet despite their importance to the plot didn’t dullen the lustre of the present is testament to Julie Houston’s skill as a writer.

if you haven't discovered this for yourself yet you are seriously missing out. Head to Amazon and indulge yourself in this beautiful read - A Family Affair, you won't be disappointed.

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Saturday, 5 June 2021

The Forever Home - Sue Watson

About the book… 

Carly had thought they’d always live there. The beautiful Cornish cliffside house they’d taken on as a wreck, that Mark had obsessively re-designed and renovated – a project that had made him famous. It was where they’d raised their children, where they’d sat cosily on the sofa watching storms raging over the sea below. It was where they’d promised to keep each other’s secrets…

Until now. Because Mark has fallen in love. With someone he definitely shouldn’t have. Someone who isn’t Carly. And suddenly their family home doesn’t feel like so much of a safe haven.

Carly thinks forever should mean forever though: it’s her home and she’ll stay there. Even the dark family secrets it contains feel like they belong to her. But someone disagrees. And, as threats start to arrive at her front door, it becomes clear, someone will stop at nothing. Because someone wants to demolish every last thing that makes Carly feel safe. Forever.

An utterly unputdownable psychological thriller about what lies are hidden in the most beautiful homes. Perfect for fans of Date Night, Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window

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About the author… 

Sue Watson was a journalist on national magazines and newspapers before becoming a TV producer with the BBC.

Now a USA Today bestselling author, Sue explores the darker side of life, writing psychological thrillers with big twists.

Originally from Manchester, she now lives with her family in leafy Worcestershire where much of her day is spent writing – and procrastinating. Her hobby is eating cake while watching diet and exercise programmes from the sofa, a skill she’s perfected after many years of practice.

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My thoughts…

I’ll don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading Sue Watson’s books. With each they get that little bit darker, push my imagination to the edge of comfortable, are utterly compelling and leave me stuck for words.

The setting for The Forever Home resonated as I read it whilst sitting outside my caravan on a Cornish cliff top. Thankfully it was sunny and bright where I sat as the clouds darkened over Carly’s life.

When Carly married architect, husband Mark she inherited what she was to think of as her Forever Home from her mother. It was perfectly set, with cliff top views of the Cornish Coast and was to be the catalyst for a partnership both romantically and financially for her and Mark. As Mark set about renovating and transforming the house into a showpiece home, Carly filmed and documented the process, sharing it on-line - which inadvertently catapulted them into the spotlight and a TV career spanning 25 years showcasing Mark’s work. As a reader I could feel the buzz, and could visualise the setting but I also got the feeling of an unbalanced relationship, Mark was living the glamourises high life and Carly was definitely the foundations that propped him up.

At a time when they should be riding high as a pair it was obvious Carly and family life was coming a poor second to Mark, he was more bothered about his public profile. It was the evening of their silver wedding anniversary party, and turned out to be the night that Carly’s life shattered into a million pieces. It wasn’t the intimate family and close friend occasion Carly yearned for but more a lavish networking event with a guest list full of media and business contacts known only to Mark. A night that was to see the life they’d created disintegrate before their eyes.

Oh my goodness, the bombshell that dropped couldn’t have been any worse - I felt every second of Carly’s public humiliation. The ensuing chapters focus on Carly and her determination to salvage her life and her Forever Home. I think I lived every second of Carly’s life with her as she navigated the reality of her shattered life, dreams and trust - the emotions caught in my throat when Carly’s is subject to anonymous threats - someone wanted her out of her home at all costs!

The story, gripped and totally engaged - I played mental tennis as thoughts, ideas and scenarios about the plot bounced around, landing tantalisingly just out of reach. There are so many plausible red herrings, motives and scenarios that had me second guessing and surmising completely wrongly every time. “Is anyone who they seem” I asked myself? Everyone seems to have a back story and a hidden agenda, with individual stories so separate yet joined like the links on a bracelet. I didn’t know who Carly should trust or believe but I was firmly in her corner. I’m sure I almost died when the plot was finally unravelled in a shock ending I never once even came close to guessing, I sat mouth wide open as I held my breath - lockdown has clearly given Sue Watson too much time to hatch and plot - I can’t say anything other than the whole premise was totally plausible and just utterly brilliant!!!

Sue thank you for yet another page turning thriller that hooked me in and gripped me so tightly I felt captive, breathless and broken as I walked in Carly’s footsteps. An outstanding read that will stay with me forever, a read I have already recommended to so many friends.

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