reviews

Christmas (themed) Books!

Here it is, slightly later than planned (don’t ask), the Christmas-themed book post!  It’s Christmas Eve, I’ve finished work for Christmas and I’ve read my way through a whole stack of Christmas-themed reading to come up with some top recommendations for you to read on your Christmas break.  As this is now too late to go to the shops, tonight’s links are to Kindle – but you can click through from that to buy the paperback if you want to.  Or you can pick them up in the scrum at the Supermarket on Boxing Day.

paperback christmas books
For once I have some of my recommendations in paperback!

Snowed in for Christmas by Clare Sandy

Asta is back in Ireland for the first time since she fled with a secret years ago.  Now the secret is sixteen and desperate to know about her family.  Asta was hoping to be in and out in a flash, but ends up snowed in with her madcap extended family.  Will she gets the answers that she needs or will her trip home bring more complications?

I think this is my favourite of the bunch – it might well have been BotW last week if it wasn’t for the fact that I wanted to feature it in this! Clare Sandy has featured on this blog before (with A Very Big House in the Country and What Would Mary Berry Do?) and this is such a joy.  I was trying to sum this up and I came up with Ballykissangel meets Marian Keyes and your favourite romantic comedy movie.  This book is wickedly funny but also touching and paints a vivid picture both of Asta’s London life and the village in Ireland.  It is so much fun – and very Christmassy – but without feeling contrived or saccharine.  It is a fabulous story that happens to be set at Christmas.

Make a Christmas Wish by Julia Williams

Last Christmas Livvy was knocked over in the supermarket car park and now she’s dead. But she’s not ready to let her husband and her son go, so she’s hovering on the edge of the afterlife – fuming over her husband’s new girlfriend and fretting about whether her son’s coping without her.  When she gets a last chance to make it right, will she take it – and what is right anyway?

This is so clever.  I started it thinking it wasn’t going to be my sort of book and then got totally sucked in.  I found Livvy quite a tough character to like, but I was totally rooting for her husband Adam and her son Joe.  This is not a sweet and fluffy Christmas book – it’s funny, but it made me cry too. I had moments of wondering whether it would all turn out right (in my opinion) in the end, but when I got to the end I had that warm and fuzzy feeling inside that you get from a good story well told.

Other top tips – I’ve already mentioned Trisha Ashley’s latest A Christmas Cracker on the blog, but I thought it was worth repeating that this is a great festive read – warm and witty and romantic. I’ve got Jenny Colgan’s latest (in paperback anyway) A Christmas Surprise waiting for me still – it’s the third Rosie Hopkins book.  And there’s my Novelicious colleague Cressida McLoughlin’s A Christmas Tail which I read through the year as the four part Primrose Terrace series.  For some Christmas crime, try Mavis Doriel Hay’s recently republished the Santa Klaus Murder or go equally golden age with a dose of Inspector Alleyn with Ngaio Marsh’s Tied up in Tinsel (which I can only find on Kindle as an omnibus with Clutch of Constables and When in Rome).

Shorter reads

If you want something a bit shorter but still festive, there’s a bunch of excellent short stories and novellas too.  Some of my favourites were revisiting characters from other books that I’d read earlier in the year. So you can see what happened next to the Winter family in Harriet Evans’ A Winterfold Christmas or you can catch-up with the residents of Hazy Hassocks in Christina Jones’s Mitzi’s Midwinter Wedding.  There’s also a new Christmas short from Katie Fforde – A Christmas in Disguise – which I enjoyed, but wanted to be longer.  And if you’ve been following the residents of Cherry Pie Island all year, then the final part of that, Four Weddings and A White Christmas is out as well (I’m halfway through it!).  There’s also the final part of Cathy Bramley’s Wickham Hall series White Christmas.  And don’t forget Silent Nights – the short crime story collection that was BotW a few weeks back.

And there you are.  Have a happy Christmas and I hope you all get what you wished for.  I’m back at work at 6am on Boxing Day, please think of me as you’re waking up with your hangover!

Disclosure:  I bought my own copy of all of the books and novellas in this post except for: Silent Nights and The Santa Klaus Murder which came via NetGalley, Snowed in for Christmas which I was sent by the author and Make A Christmas Wish which I won in a twitter competition.  In addition I received the Trisha Ashley via NetGalley – but bought myself a copy as well!

books, new releases

Reminder: A Place for Us out today in Paperback

Yes, I know, as if I haven’t gone on about Harriet Evans’ latest book enough already.  But for those of you who like a paperback in your hand – or who have a shelf of Harriet Evans they want to add to – A Place for Us is out today.

In case you missed my gushings about this already – it was on my Books of the Year List and I also did a bit of sleep deprived babbling about it after Part One and reviewed Part Two and Parts Three and Four too.

In case you can’t tell – I really liked it.  You should be able to get your copy all over the place – but here are some links: Foyles, Waterstones, Amazon and my page on My Independent Bookshop where you can also find various other books I’ve been raving about.

Chick lit, fiction, new releases, reviews

Review: A Place for Us Parts 3 and 4

I have enjoyed this book so much – and contrary to my usual views about serialisations (and to my sleep-addled pleas after Part 1 of A Place For Us) I’ve really enjoyed having to wait for the next part, as it’s forced me to make the book last.  As a fast reader, when I find something I like, I gobble it up as quickly as possible – then it’s over.  As someone who finished each of the last 4 Harry Potter books by early afternoon the day that they came out, I can attest that this can leave you with a very long wait to find out what happened next and a sense of regret that it was over too soon.  But reading something spaced out over a period of time gives you a different perspective than eating it up in a big rush.  And this is a book that I would definitely have read in a hurry.  I was desperate to find out what happened next and how it was all going to work out.

The end of Part 2 left us with another major plot development.  Part 3 throws everything up in the air again – so that it falls down in different places and leaves the reader with some answers – but most of the characters are still in the dark.  Part 4 puts everything back together and by the end you can see the family walking forwards into a new future.

And I can’t say much more than that about the plot – because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone – particularly as part of the joy of this for me was not knowing where this was going and how everything was going to link up together.  Also because the book is going to be published as a proper book in early 2014, anything I say in this post is giving spoilers for the second half of the book – which I try not to do with books I’m reviewing.

This books has such a large cast of characters it is hard to pick a favourite.  Instead I’ll say that I liked the Grandchildren strands the best – if I was forced to pick – but it’s a really tough choice, because every part of the plot has something about it that makes me think that I like that one best.  Certainly the book wouldn’t be as good as it is if any one of them was missing.

This is a different sort of book from Harriet Evans I think.  I’ve read a couple of her books in the past (and as is standard for me, I have a couple waiting to be read as well) and although I enjoyed them and recommend them – I wouldn’t have lent them to my mum.  This one I would.  And that’s because she loves big family sagas spread across time – and even though this one is mostly set in the present so much of the story is because of what happened in the past.  I keep wanting to mention Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles in connection with this book and I can’t quite pin down why – except that they are both books about extended families with secrets which switch between characters as the stories continue and where a house is almost a character in its own right.

Anyway, if you haven’t started reading A Place For Us, you should try it – and now all four parts are available you won’t have the agonising wait that I did between parts 1 to 3 (the holiday meant I got to part 3 a bit later than intended and was able to go straight on to Part 4).  If you want a proper book copy – it’s not out until January 15th next year, which is a shame as I probably have bought it for my sister for her Christmas book if I could have done.  Here are the links to the kindle versions of Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.  I got the first three parts through NetGalley (in return for an honest review) but bought myself Part 4 because I was so desperate to know how it all worked out.

Chick lit, fiction, new releases, reviews

Review: A Place for Us by Harriet Evans (part 2)

We’re off schedule again people… But this time I’m properly rested and hopefully coherent (at least until nightshifts start again tonight).  It is, of course, because of the nights that we’re departing from the schedule – I didn’t realise that Part 2 was nearly here until I saw someone else review it…  Anyhow we left A Place for Us with me begging to find out what happened next in a slightly sleep deprived manner, after the end of Part 1 dropped a fairly major bombshell on the reader.

Well, what can I say.  In Part 2 the bombshell is unloaded onto the rest of the characters – along with a few other secrets – and then we’re left on another cliff hanger.  Honestly, this serialisation malarkey isn’t good for my blood pressure.  There.  That’s all I can say about the plot without giving too much away.  Except that we learn more about the characters – and in particular the absent Daisy.

I am desperate to know what happens next (again) and Harriet Evans has surprised me with some of the twists and turns we’ve had in this second part.  She’s also written a novel which (so far) seems to really lend itself to being broken up into chunks to torment the reader.  I think this part is shorter than part one – but it’s packed with character development, plot movement and surprises so you don’t notice.  I’m very excited about part three – because based on what’s happened so far, I’m fairly sure I have no idea what’s going to happen next.

A Place for Us Part 2 is here for Kindle and if you haven’t read Part 1 then you really should.  I’m off to make a note in my diary about the release date for part 3 (25 September).

books, fiction, new releases, reviews

Review: A Place for Us by Harriet Evans (part one)

I am not a good candidate for serialisations.  I am your classic binge reader – find me something I like and I’ll gorge on it until there is nothing left.  I don’t like having to wait. Anticipation is not my friend.  I count myself as anticipated out after waiting to find out what happened next in Harry Potter for years at a time from the end of Chamber of Secrets onwards.

I’m writing this on my phone, on a train in the early hours of the morning because I’ve just finished the first part of Harriet Evans new book which I was pre-approved for on Netgalley and I need to know what happens next.  Now.  Preferably about 10 minutes ago.

Part one of this serialisation has set up a cast of characters designed to captivate, has dangled enough clues about secrets to tantilise and then FOUR sentences from the end dropped a great big enormous bombshell and then left me hanging. To quote one of my favourite TV shows (involving a Miss B Summers of Sunnydale, California) Inquiring minds need to know. And this one needs to know now.

A Place for Us (so far) is the story of three generations of the Winter family who have been summoned to the family home for Martha the matriarch’s 80th birthday party.  Previously very close, the family has fractured apart and during part one we get to know them – find out who they are and some of what they’re hiding, and guess at other secrets as yet unrevealed.  Then, at the end of Part 1, we find out the bombshell that is about to be dropped at the party (or at least I think we do, unless it’s a masterpiece of misdirection) and your brain starts frantically trying to work out what happens next – and whether this will bring them closer together or send them spiralling further apart – because although this secret is huge, there are lots of other things lurking beneath the surface too.

I’ve read a couple of Harriet Evans’ books before and enjoyed them. She mentions Georgette Heyer (always a good way to my heart) and I like her heroines.  This book has so many characters I don’t know who is my favourite yet, but I want to read more so I can decide!  (I hope my message is getting through, though I fear it may sound like the deranged rantings of a sleep-deprived woman, it’s not. Honest. I just Need To Know).  If the rest of the book lives up to this first part (of FOUR – how am I going to cope with this?!) I believe then it is going to be a great read (and possibly somewhat epically long) and deserves to be gobbled up by fans of Harriet Evans and new readers alike.

It’s Thursday morning and I’ve re-read my rantings from last night before publishing. I don’t think I sound too crazy. I’m hoping I sound enthusiastic and excited about the book rather than plain loopy, although I fear it’s a fine line.  But I didn’t want to alter too much of my post – because this was my genuine response to finishing Part One of the book. And it was 1am, on a train, at the end of a 10 hour shift and that sort of sleep-deprived creativity cannot be faked!