About: Losing It by Helen Lederer

 

Title: Losing It

Author: Helen Lederer

Published: Pan February 2015

Status: Read from February 18 to 20, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

Millie was at one time quite well known for various TV and radio appearances. However, she now has no money, a best friend with a better sex life than her, a daughter in Papua New Guinea and too much weight in places she really doesn’t want it.
When she’s asked to be the front woman for a new diet pill, she naively believes that all her troubles will be solved. She will have money, the weight will be gone, and maybe she’ll get more sex.
If only life was really that easy. It doesn’t take her long to realize it’s going to take more than a diet pill to solve her never-ending woes…”

****

 

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Review: Second Life by S.J. Watson

Title: Second Life

Author: S.J Watson

Published: Doubleday February 2015

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Status: Read on February 11, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

SJ Watson’s debut, Before I Go To Sleep was a smash hit and I imagine the pressure to produce a similarly successful novel has been immense.

London wife and mother, Julia, is devastated when she is informed her younger sister, Kate, has been murdered by an unknown assailant in a Parisian alleyway. Half crazed with grief and guilt, Julia becomes obsessed with finding Kate’s killer, infiltrating an online ‘hook-up’ service her sister used in search of suspects.
Lukas is one of the first men to respond to her tentative approach, and though she quickly dismisses him as a suspect in her sister’s murder, Julia can’t seem to extract herself from the connection they have made. Her stolen moments with Lukas are a reprieve from her despair but as their relationship transitions from the virtual to the real world, Julia’s ‘second life’ unwittingly puts everything she has, and those she loves most, at risk.

What Watson does particularly well in Second Life is create a close, tense and increasingly disorientating atmosphere as Julia’s life spirals out of control.

My dissatisfaction with this novel can be laid at the feet of Watson’s protagonist, Julia. I just didn’t buy into her behaviour, despite the author’s rationalisations of grief and guilt. I found Julia to be painfully frustrating – naive, self obsessed, and later, wontingly self destructive.

Unable to invest in the character, I then struggled with the plot, which relies on Julia’s poor judgment to progress. There is tension and some surprising twists but it wasn’t enough to convince me to put aside my dislike of Julia. Perhaps the strongest element of the story is the pacy and shocking denouement, though I’m still not quite sure how I feel about its ambiguity.

Just barely an okay read, largely due to my frustration with the main character, unfortunately, I think Second Life suffers badly in comparison with Before I Go To Sleep.

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Review: The Dead Wife’s Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

 

Title: The Dead Wife’s Handbook

Author: Hannah Beckerman

Published: Arcade Publishing Jan 2015

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Status: Read from January 05 to 06, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/edelweiss)

My Thoughts:

The Dead Wife’s Handbook by Hannah Beckerman is a story of love, grief and letting go. Rachel was just thirty six years old when her heart stopped beating. She was happily married to Max and a loving mother to five year old Ellie, now she floats in a void of white mist given intermittent views of her husband and daughter living without her.

The idea of a ghostly narrator is a not a new one and sadly the story offers no real surprises. It begins to feel a bit repetitive after a while, for Max and Ellie it’s one step forward, two steps back, for Rachel – endless longing and a predictable cycle of guilt, resentment and despair.

I think it was just that characters were all just too perfect – Rachel was the perfect wife and mother, Max the perfect husband and father, and Ellie, who is just too perfectly adorable for words. Oh and Eve, Eve is perfect too. Their grief often seemed too neat, too contained and Max always seemed to be able to find the right words to comfort Ellie.

I did empathise with Rachel, after all I am a mother and I would be horrified to be in her place, but for the unwary reader, particularly one recently bereaved I don’t think The Dead Wife’s Handbook would offer much comfort. The lessons she learns about love, life and death are true enough but cliched.

The Dead Wife’s Handbook has received a plethora of positive reviews, I just wasn’t feeling it.

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Review: Murder at the Book Group by Maggie King

Title: Murder at the Book Group {A Book Club Mystery #1}

Author: Maggie King

Published: Pocket Books December 2014

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Status: Read from December 25 to 27, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When Carlene Arness is found dead after drinking tea laced with cyanide while hosting the monthly meeting of the book club she co-founded with Hazel Rose, the members are horrified and puzzled by her death. Though a suicide note is found next to her body, none of them believe she was the type to take her own life and Hazel is determined to prove it.

There are a lot of suspects, maybe even too many, as Hazel discovers that Carlene, married to Hazel’s first husband, hid a dark past. The book club members too keep secrets that give almost all of them, including Hazel, the motive to want Carlene dead. Sex, blackmail, politics and vengeance are all part of the affray.

Murder at the Book Group has all the ingredients for a good mystery – a layered plot, an interesting cast with plenty of secrets and a great setting for book lovers (the murder takes place during a book club meeting whose membership includes several published and aspiring mystery writers). Unfortunately I never really connected with the main character, Hazel Rose, and since the story is told in the first person I found my attention wandering more often than it should have.

Murder at the Book Group was just barely an ‘okay’ read for me.

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Review: Nanny Confidential by Phillipa Christian

Title: Nanny Confidential

Author: Phillipa Christian

Published: Allen & Unwin December 2014

Status: Read from December 14 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Nanny Confidential is the story of Lindsay Starwood, an elite nanny caring for the children of some of the world’s most recognisable celebrities.

Lyndsay has cared for the offspring of film stars, presidents, oil barons, musicians and Middle East royalty. Now she is the nanny of six adorable young girls, the daughters of a famous film director, Sir Cameron Appleby, and self obsessed television star, Alysha. Lyndsay’s life appears glamorous, her closets are stuffed with designer fashions, she travels in chauffeur driven cars and private planes, and all while being paid astronomical sums, but both the children she cares for, and the demands of their parents, keep her on her toes.

Nanny Confidential is a novel that reads like a memoir, and I have to admit I had to remind myself that it was fiction more than once. Though Lyndsay relates some outrageous situations and examples of ridiculous excess she has witnessed in her job, it all seems so feasible. If only half of what Christian writes is true (and she herself as worked as a nanny for the rich and famous), it’s no wonder that the children of celebrities so often lead disastrous lives as adults. Lyndsay has far more patience than I would for the absurdities of her job, quite frankly I don’t think anyone could pay me enough to put up with the diva behaviour of celebrities like Alysha.

A quick, light read which includes a touch of romance, Nanny Confidential is suited best I think to readers who enjoy tell-all celebrity features and gossip.

 

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Review: The Heart Has Its Reasons by Maria Duenas

 

Title: The Heart Has Its Reasons

Author: Maria Duenas

Published: Pan Macmillan Au December 2014

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Status: Read from December 11 to 13, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

When her husband of twenty years abandons her for a woman only a few years older than their son, Spanish linguistics professor, Blanca Perera is desperate to get away and accepts a temporary fellowship position at a Californian university. Blanca’s task is to sort through the private and professional papers of the late Andrea Fontana, a fellow Spaniard, tragically killed in a car accident decades years previously. While Blanca initially cares little for the work, she finds herself increasingly fascinated by the life of the enigmatic professor, and his living protege, Daniel Carter.

The Heart Has its Reasons is a character driven novel exploring the themes of grief, loss, recovery and starting anew. Unfortunately I thought Blanca was a fairly bland character, passive and introverted, which is uncomfortable when the story is told largely from a first person narrative. Daniel Carter was perhaps the more interesting character, and I did enjoy reading about his time in mid century Spain.

The story does contain a hint of intrigue involving Daniel Carter’s motives, academic rivalry and a ‘missing’ Mission, and Blanca’s task plays into these threads.

As I know little about Spain, or its political or social history, I did find some of the information interesting, particularly regarding the Spanish Revolution and the influence of Spanish culture in America.

Despite some lovely writing  I really struggled with The Heart Has it’s Reasons. The tone was overly formal at times, possibly a fault of the translation. I also found the pace to be quite slow and was tempted to skim more than once.

Just barely an okay read for me.

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Review: Springtime by Michelle de Kretser

 

Title: Springtime: A Ghost Story

Author: Michelle de Kretser

Published: Allen & Unwin October 2014

Picking up her pace, Frances saw a woman in the leaf-hung depths of the garden. She wore a long pink dress and a wide hat, and her skin was a creamy white. There came upon Frances a sensation that sometimes overtook her when she was looking at a painting: space was foreshortened, time stood still.

When Frances met Charlie at a party in Melbourne he was married with a young son.

Now she and Charlie live in Sydney with her rescue dog Rod and an unshakeable sense that they have tipped the world on its axis. They are still getting their bearings – of each other and of their adopted city. Everything is alien, unfamiliar, exotic: haunting, even.”

Status: Read on October 23, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

I requested this for review because though I own de Kretser’s award winning Questions of Travel I have yet to read it.

Springtime is an introspective little piece – a short story, (presented in hardcover, smaller than a mass paperback with largish type) rather than a novella.

It is a brief portrait of a woman facing the uncertainty and impermanence of change, time and fate. The tone is ethereal, the language graceful but it didn’t really speak to me beyond that.

 

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Review: I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton

 

Title: I’ll Be Watching You

Author: Beverly Barton

Published: Avon UK October 2014

Listen to an Excerpt

Status: Read from October 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publicist}

My Thoughts:

I’ll Be Watching You by Beverly Barton is a romantic suspense novel with elements of erotica and mystery. After spending fifteen years in jail for a crime he did not commit, Reed Conway is determined to return to Spring Creek and prove his innocence by outing whoever really slit his step father’s throat. When Ella Porter, the daughter of the man who secured Reed’s conviction, receives a vulgar and threatening anonymous letter the day after Reed is paroled, Reed is an immediate suspect but after Ella confronts him, she As threats against the Porter family escalate Ella, swayed by Reed’s sexy charm, begins to believe in his claim that he is being framed now, as he was fifteen years ago, but can she really trust a man convicted of murder with her life?

Unfortunately I wasn’t terribly impressed with this story. The plot resembles a daytime soap opera arc with the a small cast tangled in an almost incestuous web of abuse, deceit, betrayal, adultery, obsession, and murder. The suspense is okay but the plot shocks are fairly heavily foreshadowed and when the killer’s identity was revealed, I realised I wasn’t surprised in the least.

The narrative is written in the third person using multiple perspectives, including that of the anonymous killer. If I am honest, I didn’t find any of the the characters very convincing as individuals, not helped by their convoluted relationships to one another.
Nearly thirty and a circuit judge, Ella Porter lacked the presence or personality I would expect from such an accomplished, mature woman. She’s a daddy’s girl, believing him to be infallible and completely clueless about the state of her parents marriage. And despite believing that Reed is a killer who plans to harm her, she dissolves anytime Reed looks her way.
Reed is described appealingly “A good six three. Broad shoulders. Biceps bulging…surprisingly tanned…thick tawny hair curled about his neck and ears…A lazy, raw sensuality oozed from his pores.” However the moment he is distracted by Ella he completely forgets about searching for the killer who framed him, despite spending the last 15 years in prison waiting for his opportunity to prove his innocence.
The chemistry between them is a bit contrived (bad boy meets good girl) but the erotic scenes are written well enough, if a little florid. Be aware that Ella and Reed aren’t the only couple to share some steamy moments, and there are several erotic encounters through the book.

There is a distinct southern small town feel to the setting, both through the use of double barreled first names like Jeff Henry and Joe Brierly and the brief descriptions of the town and its social structure. The language is a bit odd though, sometimes feeling very stilted and formal for such a contemporary setting. I think it was an attempt by the author to distinguish between class – but it just came off as weird.

Though I’ll Be Watching You didn’t really work for me, it was a quick and undemanding read. it seems to have an appreciative audience from readers who enjoy the soap opera style melodrama and sexy bits, so if that is you..enjoy!

 

I’ll Be Watching You is available to purchase at

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Review: Heartbreak Hotel by Debbie Moggach

 

Title: Heartbreak Hotel

Author: Debbie Moggach

Published: Vintage Digital: Random House UK August 2014

Status: Read from August 13 to 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

When aging actor Russell ‘Buffy’ Buffery inherits a B&B in rural Wales he stuns his family and friends by abandoning London to run it. Buffy finds he enjoys his role as host, but the crumbling manor is in desperate need of maintenance, and a steady occupancy rate, and he needs to find a way to fix it before it all falls down around him.

The premise of Heartbreak Hotel, and the reputation of author Debbie Moggach, is what drew me to select this novel for review, unfortunately I was disappointed by the novel’s structure. The drawn out stories of some of the individuals who eventually wind up at Heartbreak Hotel seemed disconnected to the narrative and the idea of the ‘Courses for Divorces’ was terrific but never fully exploited. The last half of the book, when the characters are brought together, is much stronger than the first.

I did like the Moggach’s characters, most of them find themselves at the B&B after a disappointment of some sort or another. Buffy is an interesting man, he had a successful career as an actor but now aged 70 he is reinventing himself as well as grappling with the missteps he made as a husband and father. For many the guests of Myrtle House their stay at the B&B has surprising consequences including new love and the kindling of new dreams.

Heartbreak Hotel is often amusing and has some charm, but ultimately it was just an OK read for me.

 

Heartbreak Hotel  is available to purchase from

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Review: 21st Century Dodos by Steve Stack

 

Title: 21st Century Dodos: A Collection of Endangered Objects (and other stuff)

Author: Steve Stack

Published: The Friday Project: Harper Collins UK June 2014

Status: Read on June 20, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

If you remember sliding your home made mix cassette tape, recorded in silence from the Radio Top 40, into your Walkman and strapping your calculator watch to your wrist before disappearing to play unsupervised in the local park until dinner time, then the nostalgic appeal 21st Century Dodos will be a source of nostalgic appeal.

Subtitled “A collection of endangered objects (and other stuff)” this is a light and humourous tribute to the end of an era. At just forty it seems almost obscene that so much of my childhood is now obsolete – rotary phones, Polaroid cameras, 10c mixed lolly bags (Cobbers were my favourite), school blackboards and roller skates but I enjoyed the reminder of these simple pleasures, and treasures.

It might hearten Steve Stack to know Australia still has Woolworths stores and my boys are currently participating in Bob-a-Job week (though I go door to door with them). Not having grown up in England however there are a lot of things mentioned in the book that I’m unfamiliar with, retailers, television shows and product brands among them.

21st Century Dodos is a fun read, for anyone over about 35 I would think, but as it is heavily skewed towards British culture it is to those readers that grew up in England during the 1970/1980’s that I would recommend this book.

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