Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My Favourite Reads of 2013 .... and a few to look out for in 2014

I've spent a while looking back at the books that I've read during 2013, and decided that I'm most definitely
an eclectic reader, and maybe a bit of an eccentric!
In 2013 I read almost 200 books; most of them were fiction and the majority were by female authors.  

I've had a good reading year, and a good blogging year.  I'd like to say a huge thanks to the many publishers and authors who have sent books to review, done interviews and provided prizes for giveaways.   I've been lucky enough to attend some great author events, parties and book launches, and met some fabulous people.

I'm amazed that Random Things has had over 90,000 page views and that people seem to enjoy my reviews, and then go out and read and enjoy the books that I recommend.

I've made a list of my favourite 12 books of 2013 - it's been incredibly difficult to choose just 12.  I've read some amazing books this year, but these 12 are the ones that really stood out for me.  I've listed them in the order that I read them.  I've also included, at the end of the list a few recommendations for books that are due to be published in 2014 - I've read them, and I loved them - please look out for them early in the New Year.

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and hoping that 2014 brings good things for everyone

Anne xx

My favourite reads of 2013 - in the order that I read them.  Click on the book title to read my full review:

Published by Ebury Press 

Paperback - 28 February 2013

"The Adoption is Anne Berry's best novel to date.   It is heart-rending yet beautiful."

Published by Mantle - Pan MacMillan

Hardback - 14 March 2013 (Paperback to be published 24 April 2014)

"I enjoyed every single page of The Promise.  Ann Weisgarber has proved to me that she is an incredibly talented author whose stories are going from strength to strength."

Published by Hodder & Stoughton

Hardback - 26 March 2013 (Paperback to be published 2 January 2014)

"The Storyteller is haunting and raises so many questions.  The writing, the sense of place and the characterisation is superb.   It is an immense story and I'd recommend it highly."

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Hardback 21 May 2013 (Paperback to be published 6 May 2014)

"Whilst And The Mountains Echoed does not have the shock-factor of Hosseini's two previous novels, it is still a very important epic story that will leave a mark on anyone who reads it."

Published by The Friday Project

Paperback 11 April 2013

"I have absolutely no doubt that The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is going to stay in my mind for a very long time, in fact I may re-read it at a later date, and that is something that I rarely do."

Published by Harper Collins

Hardback 9 May 2013 (Paperback to be published 7 January 2014)

"The Shock of the Fall completely nails it. This is brave writing, honest writing and pretty astounding writing.   I am full of admiration for Filer and look forward to reading more of his work in the future."

Published by Cutting Edge Press

Paperback 27 June 2013

"Sometimes a book comes along that totally blows the mind.   Nearest Thing To Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes has done just that, my head is spinning, my heart has been beating so fast that I thought it was going to burst out of my chest."

Published by Headline

Hardback 4 July 2013.   Paperback 24 October 2013

"The Unquiet Grave grips the reader from the first paragraph and doesn't let go until the very last word. The pace is perfect and the twists are genius."

Published by Much In Little  - Constable & Robinson

Hardback 19 September 2013  (Paperback to be published 20 March 2014)

"I was completely under Matthew Crow's spell.  This short novel is just perfectly brilliant and I will recommend In Bloom to all readers, young and old."

Published by Cutting Edge Press

Paperback 1 August 2013 

"The Blackheath Seance Parlour is a 'proper' story for Halloween. Prepare for a story that feels like a mash up of the best of Dickens' gothic magic and an episode of the (fantastically funny) The League of Gentlemen."

Published by Canvas - Constable & Robinson

Hardback 18 April 2013     Paperback  21 November 2013

"The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a very accomplished novel.This is a powerful and often very moving story with touches of dry humour and some fabulous characters."

Published by Century - Random House

Paperback 18 July 2013

"One of Lisa Jewell's main strengths is her ability to write something that is completely different and quite unexpected.  The House We Grew Up In is a hard hitting, yet at the same time, a gentle story that is both shocking and moving and has taken a place in my favourite books of the year list."

I'd also like to give a very special mention to the following four books.  I read them in 2013 and they are due to be published in 2014.    Again, a very mixed bunch, but they are all excellent reads - look out for them!

Under A Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes

Published by Sphere

Paperback 24 April 2014 

"This is a tightly plotted story, with many twists and turns, lots of associated characters and so many potential suspects, just when you think you've solved it, something else happens, and bang! you realise that you were so so wrong."

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Published by Penguin

Hardback 27 February 2014    Paperback 31 July 2014

"The One Plus One is a love story, it is a family story, it is a story of hope and most of all it is a story that shows that simple acts of kindness can make the power of difference, no matter how difficult things are. Jojo Moyes perfectly captures the tiny things in life that have the biggest impact, she expertly brings to life the blossoming of relationships."

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

Published by Pan MacMillan

Paperback  16 January 2014 

"A story of love, courage, consequences, family relationships and mystery. The attention to detail and the perfect parallel timing of this novel makes it a joy to read."

Dead Gone by Luca Veste

Published by Avon Books

Paperback  16 January 2014

"This is quite simply, a stunning debut from an author who I have no doubt is going to find huge success in this genre.  Dead Gone is complex, intriguing and spine-chilling."

Sixteen fabulous books, a very mixed selection, but each and every one of them were excellent reads.    I hope that I may have whetted your appetite with a least a couple of these, they all come very highly recommended.

So on to 2014, and I'm looking forward to seeing just what will randomly pop through the letterbox this year.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Dead Gone by Luca Veste

"The young girl you have found isn’t the first experiment I’ve carried out. She won’t be the last."
A serial killer is stalking the streets of Liverpool, gruesomely murdering victims as part of a series of infamous unethical and deadly psychological experiments. 
When it becomes apparent that each victim has ties to the City of Liverpool University, DI David Murphy and DS Laura Rossi realise they're chasing a killer unlike any they've hunted before – one who doesn’t just want his victims’ bodies, but wants their minds too.

Dead Gone is the debut novel from Luca Veste and is published in paperback by Avon on 16 January 2014.

DI Murphy and DS Rossi are leading the hunt for a murderer.  The body of a City of Liverpool University student has been found.  At first this seems like a pretty run of the mill murder, the Detectives are not concerned by the letter found by the body - brushing it off as a false clue, left by the killer to put the police off the scent.   Then the next body is found ..... and the next letter.   It soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary murderer, this is someone with something to prove.   The killer refers to his victims as experiments, but why start with Experiment 3?   What happened to the first two experiments?  

Dead Gone is gripping from the opening paragraph.  The story is shocking and very intense, but there are no cheap thrills here.  Drawing on his own background as a psychology student, Luca Veste has put together a story that is intelligently written, well plotted and frighteningly realistic. Using well known unethical psychological experiments, the author has created a serial killer - and crimes that are disturbing in their possibility.

DI David Murphy is dealing with his own demons, and these are slowly revealed as the story unfolds. His own experiences are often as shocking as the crimes that he is trying to solve, and have shaped his character, and his relationships.   DS Rossi is young and eager to please her boss, she has a gentleness about her that offsets Murphy's darkness.

This is quite simply, a stunning debut from an author who I have no doubt is going to find huge success in this genre.  Dead Gone is complex, intriguing and spine-chilling.  

My thanks to Avon, the publishers for sending my copy for review.

Luca Veste is a writer of Italian and Scouse heritage, currently living on the wrong side of the River Mersey.  He is married with two young daughters, and is himself one of nine children.
He is currently a mature student, studying Psychology and Criminology in Liverpool.
He is the editor of the Spinetingler Award nominated charity anthology series Off The Record, which raises money for children's literacy charities.  He also has short stories in numerous publications.
A former civil servant, actor and musician, he now divides his time between home life, University work and writing.

To find out more about Luca Veste visit his website www.lucavest.com or find him on both Facebook and Twitter @lucaveste

Saturday, 28 December 2013

The French Postmistress by Julia Stagg

When her post office burns down, postmistress Véronique starts lobbying for its replacement. But her fellow residents of the small commune of Fogas in the French Pyrenees are too preoccupied to rally to her cause.

Mayor Serge Papon, overwhelmed by grief at the death of his wife, has lost his joie de vivre and all taste for village politics (and croissants) and it seems as though deputy mayor Christian (whose tendresse for Véronique makes him her usual champion) will soon be saying au revoir to the mountain community. And to Sarko the bull.

Add to this a controversial government initiative to reintroduce bears to the area and soon the inhabitants are at loggerheads, threatening the progress of the sacred Tour de France and the very existence of Fogas itself.

In yet another tale with more ups and downs than a Pyrenean horizon, things are about to get grizzly.

The French Postmistress is the third of Julia Stagg's novels set in a small commune called Fogas, situated in the French Pyrenees; following on from L'Auberge (May 2011), and The Parisian's Return (April 2012) - published by Hodder Books.

I haven't read either of the first two stories, and on reflection, I think it's probably best to read them before The French Postmistress.  Although this novel stands alone very well, I did struggle at times during the first third of the book to tie up each of the characters - I guess that this wouldn't have happened had I been more familiar with the setting and the characters.   Nevertheless, I did enjoy this tale of rural France, the small town politics, the interwoven relationships and most of all, the beautifully described French countryside.

Julia Stagg writes with confidence, as she should and is entitled to, having spent many years herself in the very region that she writes about. There is a darkness that pervades her story of relationships and community, with sinister goings on that are preventing Veronique - the Postmistress in the title, of achieving her aim of rebuilding the post office.  

Love and romance - politics - bears, and a bull!  Written with flair and a touch of humour, this is a novel that will please fans of Joanne Harris, and everyone else who likes a bit of oh la la now and again!

About the author - taken from www.jstagg.com     Find out more on Facebook, and on Twitter

Cursed from a young age with itchy feet, Julia has lived in Japan, Australia, the UK, the USA and more recently, France. She has worked as a waitress, a 'check-out chick', a bookseller, a pawnbroker and as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.
In 2004, tempted by a love of cycling and a passion for mountains, she moved to the gorgeous Ariège-Pyrenees region of France to run a small auberge with her husband where she was able to add chambermaid, receptionist, cleaner and chef to her CV all in one go.When not writing or running the business, Julia spent her time out inJulia Stagg at the Auberge the mountains, walking the paths and the ridges that provide the beautiful setting for the Fogas novels or riding her bike through the small hamlets and villages that are a vital part of her books.
She currently divides her time between the Ariège and the Yorkshire Dales and for a short while at least, those feet have stopped itching. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper

Meet Silver. Forty-four, divorced and living alone. His once celebrated music career is now a faded memory and his ex-wife is about to marry another man. The only good thing in Silver's life is his Princeton-bound teenage daughter, Casey - and she would probably say the exact opposite about him. So in Silver's opinion, things could be going better . . . a lot better. 
Then Casey drops a bombshell: she's pregnant. Yes, it was her first time, and, no, she hasn't told her mom. Silver knows things have got to change, and when he discovers he has a fatal heart condition that means he could drop dead at any minute, he decides it's time to make a list: 
1. Be a better father
2. Be a better man
3. Fall in love
4. Die 
But the question is, can Silver rebuild his life, regain the respect of his family, and be there for Casey when she needs him most, or has he left it all too late?

One Last Thing Before I Go is Jonathan Tropper's sixth novel, and was published in the UK in January 2013 by Orion Books.

Silver is divorced, living in a hotel that is populated largely by other men in the same situation and existing on the royalties from his one big hit record, and his weekly trip to the medical research centre where he is paid to jerk off into a plastic cup - all in the name of science.   Silver used to be famous, he was the drummer in the band The Bent Daisies, he wrote their massive hit Rest In Pieces.  Silver used to be married, he used  to have a daughter that adored him, he used to be someone.

When Silver’s teenage daughter Casey appears, calls him ‘Dad’ and tells him that she’s pregnant, Silver is determined that he will play the supportive father role – it’s better late than never surely?  If he’s honest, this makes him feel wanted, makes him feel as though he can do something for Casey – at long last.

Things don't quite go to plan, and Silver finds himself in hospital, being diagnosed with a heart condition that could kill him at any time.  It doesn't help that the diagnosis comes from Rich; the guy who is due to marry Silver's ex-wife Denise.  Rich is a successful, good-living, wealthy guy who loves Denise and Casey, who can give them the life that Silver never did.

Silver makes his list.  Refusing to have the potentially life-saving operation, he makes a list; Be A Better Father - Be A Better Man - Fall In Love - Die.   

What follows is a story that is witty, poignant, laugh out loud funny and terribly terribly sad.  As Silver tries his best to make amends, to make changes, he usually succeeds in making everything a whole lot worse. Jonathan Tropper has a genius way with words, and creates characters that the reader can't help but care for, despite their many faults and their sometimes just ridiculous behaviour.   He has conveyed the feelings of the hopeless, but also the hopeful so well.   

Silver is a character that the reader should despise, but it is very difficult not to actually fall in love with this guy who really does try his best.  My favourite line from Silver is one that totally sums him up;

"If you're eating an ice cream cone, it's just very hard to believe that things have gone completely to shit.  That there isn't still hope"

One Last Thing Before I Go is contemporary fiction at its very best.  Highly recommended.

Jonathan Tropper was born and raised in Riverdale, New York.  He attended the creative writing program at New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science, where he received a Masters degree.  He is the New York Times bestselling author of five previous novels; Plan B, The Book of Joe, Everything Changes, How To Talk to a Widower, and This Is Where I Leave you.  His books have been translated into more than twenty languages.  He is also a screenwriter and the cocreator and executive producer of the HBO/Cinemax television series Banshee.  He lives with his wife and children in Westchester, NY, and teaches writing at Manhattanville College.

For more information visit his website www.jonathantropper.com and Twitter @Jtropper

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

Spanning four generations, The Midnight Rose sweeps from the glittering palaces of the great maharajas of India to the majestic stately homes of England, following the extraordinary life of a girl, Anahita Chavan, from 1911 to the present day . . . 
In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of rich Indian royalty. Becoming the princess’s official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of the Great War. There, she meets the young Donald Astbury – reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate – and his scheming mother. 
Eighty years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she’s relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to the wilds of Dartmoor in England. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita’s great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family’s past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . .

The Midnight Rose is Lucinda Riley's fourth novel and will be published in the UK by Pan MacMillan in January 2014.   I've read and enjoyed all of her previous books - take a look at my review for The Light Behind The Window and  The Girl On The Cliff

This is a huge story, not just in length but in the quality of the writing, the detail and the meticulous research that has gone into its creation.  A saga that spans the decades and spreads across continents, it is dramatic and compelling and swept me off to another era.

The Midnight Rose is Anahita's story, and begins in India in 1911.   Anahita (Anni) comes from a family whose wealth has been lost over the years, brought up by parents who allowed her to believe in herself and her skills, she becomes the companion of Princess Indira.   Indira is a flighty girl, spoilt but warm hearted and the two girls become the best of friends.  When the girls are sent to England, Anni realised that it is here that she can gain a proper education, and maybe achieve something that wouldn't be possible back in India.  It is also the place that she meets Donald Astbury, the man who will shape her whole future.

The story is told as a dual-time narrative, and the reader is soon transported to modern-day Astbury estate. No longer the venue for parties and dinners, the house is now owned by the present Lord Anthony who lives alone with just his housekeeper for company.  Financial worries have meant that the estate has been hired out as a location for a Hollywood film starring the beautiful, but unhappy Rebecca Bradley.

When Anni's great-grandson Ari arrives at Astbury to try and learn more about his ancestors, he and Rebecca stumble upon evidence that the things that Anni claimed in her letter to Ari may well have been true.

This is a truly captivating story spanning continents and decades.  The descriptions of life in the royal palaces of India during the time of English rule are stunning, and the way of life for the English aristocracy is cleverly compared and contrasted, showing that in fact, although miles apart, there were many similarities in how they lived.   Exotic, vibrant, colourful India and the opulence and grandeur of the Royal family contrast with the sometimes staid and stuffy gentle elegance of the English countryside.

Anni is a complex character, seemingly compliant, kind and caring - yet with a steely determination to protect those who are dearest to her, whilst being prepared to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of others.

The modern-day story unfolds quite slowly, as Rebecca and Ari learn a little bit more about Anni and her journey to Astbury, the full horror of her treatment from Donald's mother, Lady Maud Astbury becomes clear.  Lady Maud was a woman who was determined that nothing would stand in her way, determined that the Astburys would continue to live on the estate for generations to come, her hard-hearted actions shaped the whole future for many years.

A story of love, courage, consequences, family relationships and mystery. The attention to detail and the perfect parallel timing of this novel makes it a joy to read.

My thanks to the author and publisher Pan MacMillan, who arranged for my proof copy to be sent for review.

Lucinda Riley was born in Ireland and wrote her first book aged 24.
Her novel Hothouse Flower was selected for the UK's Richard and Judy Book Club in 2011 and went on to sell over 2 million copies worldwide and become a New York Times bestseller.
Lucinda's next novel, The Girl on the Cliff, also made it onto the New York Times bestseller list, in its first week, and her latest book The Light Behind the Window was a number one bestsellr on the German chart.
Lucinda's books are translated into 22 languages and published in 36 countries. She lives with her husband and four children on the North Norfolk coast in England and in the South of France.

More information about Lucinda Riley and her books can be found at www.lucindariley.com, on Facebook and on Twitter

Friday, 20 December 2013

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

Meet the Bird Family 
All four children have an idyllic childhood: a picture-book cottage in a country village, a warm, cosy kitchen filled with love and laughter, sun-drenched afternoons in a rambling garden. 
But one Easter weekend a tragedy strikes the Bird family that is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear them apart. 
The years pass and the children become adults and begin to develop their own quite separate lives. Soon it's almost as though they've never been a family at all. 
Almost. But not quite. 
Because something has happened that will call them home, back to the house they grew up in - and to what really happened that Easter weekend all those years ago.

The House We Grew Up In is Lisa Jewell's eleventh novel and was published by Century - part of Random House, in July 2013.  Lisa Jewell has long been a favourite author of mine, I seem to have grown up alongside her writing.  I reviewed her last novel; Before I Met You back in September last year.

One of Lisa Jewell's main strengths is her ability to write something that is completely different and quite unexpected.  The House We Grew Up In is a hard hitting, yet at the same time, a gentle story that is both shocking and moving and has taken a place in my favourite books of the year list.

The story begins as Megan and her teenage daughter return to the house that Megan grew up in.  The house that her mother Lorelei spent her last lonely years in, surrounded by her things - randomly purchased and collected items, things that had meaning for Lorelei, but to Megan and the rest of the family were just junk, rubbish, a mess.

Megan and her siblings grew up with Lorelei and their father Colin in this house.  They were never the most conventional family around, but they were happy.   Lorelei was something of a bohemian, delighting in brightly coloured foil, turning cartwheels unexpectedly and devoting herself to her children.  Then everything changed; on one Easter Sunday the Bird family fell apart.   Since that day, the family disintegrated, each one of them dealing with the tragedy in their own way.

Megan got married, had children and became obsessive about cleanliness.  Bethan stayed at home, until Lorelei's things took over the house, she started a doomed relationship and finally fled to the other side of the world.  Rhys just crumbled, making mistake after mistake until one day he couldn't run any further.

And Lorelei and Colin?  Those happy parents?  Lorelei fell in love with a woman and Colin set up home next door before shocking his family with his choice of new partner.

This is a powerful and at times heart breaking, the inner sadness of each of these people is raw.  Lisa Jewell has cleverly crafted the story with flashbacks over the years, interwoven with emails that the ageing Lorelei has written to her 'online lover'.  Complex and difficult issues are not hidden or shied away from; extra marital affairs, suicide, mental illness - all of these are compassionately dealt with.  Lorelei is the centre of this story and her children and partners are like spokes of the wheel, everything and every action leads back to Lorelei.

Who knows what goes on behind closed doors?   Who knows why people become obsessive, or careless? This wonderfully written, warm and very clever novel gives the reader a glimpse into how a family can destruct, but also how the powerful bind of family love can tie them all together.

Clever, moving and completely absorbing.  Another excellent novel from a very talented author.

From www.lisa-jewell.co.uk:

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.
She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.
She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.
Find Lisa on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @lisajewelluk

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Kind of Vanishing by Lesley Thomson

Winner of the People's Book Prize and described by bestselling crime novelist, Ian Rankin as 'a novel to treasure', A Kind Of Vanishing is reissued to coincide with the paperback publication of Lesley Thomson's new novel, The Detective's Daughter.   Published on 23 January 2014 by Myriad Editions.

A spellbinding mystery of obsession and guilt, this is also the poignant story of what happens to those left behind when a child vanishes without trace.
It is the summer of 1968, the day Senator Robert Kennedy is shot. Two nine-year-old girls are playing hide and seek in the ruins of a deserted village. Alice has discovered a secret about Eleanor Ramsay's mother, and is taunting the other girl. When it is Eleanor's turn to hide, Alice disappears.
Years later, an extraordinary turn of events opens up shocking truths for the Ramsay family and all who knew the missing girl.

A Kind of Vanishing is a complex crime story, a novel that moves slowly towards an ending that both surprises and disturbs in equal measure.  
It is summer 1968 and two girls are playing together in a ruined village.  The two girls do not like one another, and one of the most startling aspects of this book is the author's ability to get right into the mind of a nine year old girl.  The reasoning and the justification made by Eleanor during the opening pages are both convincing and sometimes, a little chilling.
Eleanor is the girl who is left behind when Alice disappears, and this incident will link the two families together for many years.  As time passes by, the reader journeys along with each family, discovering their flaws and trying to deal with their complexities, as well as being taunted by the crime that is the centre of the story.

This is a dark, often quite slow, but nevertheless, hauntingly chilling read.  An expose of minds, relationships, families and passion.

My thanks to Emma, who sent my copy on behalf of the publisher.

Lesley Thomson studied at the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex. Her first novel, Seven Miles from Sydney ("Compelling" Times on Sunday; "Bold and imaginative" Time Out; "Such an interesting novel" Guardian) is a crime thriller set in Australia. She also co-wrote actress Sue Johnston's autobiography Hold on to the Messy Times. Lesley’s second novel A Kind of Vanishing was published in 2007 to critical acclaim, and won the People’s Book Prize for Fiction in 2010.
She has worked as a journalist, photographer, ghost-writer and is currently an associate tutor on Greg Mosse’s Creative Writing MA at West Dean College near Chichester and guest lectures at Northbrook College and the University of Sussex.
Originally a Londoner, she now lives in Lewes, East Sussex with her partner. She is working on her latest novel in between long walks over the South Downs.
Visit Lesley Thomson's website.    Twitter @lesleyjmThomson

Sunday, 15 December 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E Smith

If fate sent you an email, would you answer? 
It's June - seventeen-year-old Ellie O'Neill's least favourite time of year. Her tiny hometown is annually invaded by tourists, and this year there's the added inconvenience of a film crew. Even the arrival of Hollywood heartthrob Graham Larkin can't lift her mood. 
But there is something making Ellie very happy. Ever since an email was accidentally sent to her a few months ago, she's been corresponding with a mysterious stranger, the two of them sharing their hopes and fears. Their developing relationship is not without its secrets though - there's the truth about Ellie's past... and her pen pal's real identity. When they finally meet in person, things are destined to get much more complicated. Can two people, worlds apart but brought together by chance, make it against all the odds? 
Spanning one fateful summer, Jennifer E. Smith's new novel proves that life - and love - are full of unexpected connections and happy mistakes.

This Is What Happy Looks Like was published by Headline on 24 October 2013, and is aimed at a Young Adult market.  Despite the target market, I loved every page of this novel and would urge adult readers to read it too.

It's not often that I wish I were a teenager again, but when I read novels like this, I feel a pang of jealousy towards today's young adult readers. There just didn't seem to be the quality of literature around when I was a teen - I seem to remember making a massive leap from traditional children's books straight to the adult market  - there was little in between.  Today's young people have such a wealth of choice, how lucky they are.

This Is What Happy Looks Like is a clever and unusual novel.  When Ellie receives an email by mistake and replies, she never imagines that this will be the start of a new friendship.  She, and the person known only to her as 'G' start up an online relationship, sharing their day-to-day lives, and also their secrets.  Only they don't share every single secret.  Both of them have something huge, something that defines them, and something that they both choose to keep to themselves.  Theirs is an innocent friendship.

When eventually Ellie and Graham meet, it is Ellie that gets the biggest shock.  Graham cannot hide who he is once he is no longer protected by the virtual barrier that they have created, whereas Ellie can continue to keep her secret to herself.   This gives Ellie the upper hand, and whilst she is attracted to Graham, she knows that a relationship with him will bring more heartache - not just to her, but to her beloved Mother too.  The Mother who has worked hard to create their happy life in 'middle-of-nowhere' Maine.

This is a beautifully written traditional love story which has been given a modern contemporary twist.  It is relevant to today's young people, it looks at life in the media spotlight, and how being famous doesn't always mean being happy.  

A story that centres on authentic characters with a plot that could easily have become twee and overly sweet, but instead is very modern and the characters are very likeable.  This is a quick, easy read that I enjoyed very much, and would heartily recommend.

My thanks to Sam Eades from Headline who sent my copy for review.

Jennifer E Smith grew up outside of Chicago and graduated from Colgate University.  She earned her master's in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently lives in New York City.  Smith is an editor at Random House, and she previously worked at ICM.

For more information, visit her website www.jenniferesmith.com
Follow her on Twitter @jenesmith

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Debt and the Doormat by Laura Barnard

Poppy and Jazz have been best friends from the first week of uni. Whenever these two get together trouble isn’t far away and things haven’t changed much. When Jazz gets herself into financial trouble Poppy, being a good friend, offers to help. She instead ends up being talked into swapping lives, with Jazz insisting it will be good and help her get over her broken heart. 

Poppy is thrown into a new life, full of crazy housemates; there’s fitness freak Izzy, horrendously beautiful bitch Grace and the slightly gorgeous, if not incredibly grumpy Ryan. Quickly, with the help of Jazz, her life is thrown upside down. Madness ensues and her need to please everyone gets her in more trouble than she could ever imagine.

Before she knows it she’s got a fake boyfriend and is hiding so many secrets she’s scared they’ll spill out any minute. With a bullying boss, a sex crazed colleague, a mental mother and three brothers each with their own dramas, life has gotten pretty difficult for Poppy. And all of this would be much easier, if she could just stop falling over. 

Will she get her life back to normal before her brother’s upcoming wedding? And will she want to?

I am clearly not really the target audience for The Debt and the Doormat by Laura Barnard.  I'm in my mid forties, happily married and settled whilst the lead characters in this story are young, a little bit reckless, very clumsy and just a little bit mad.

This is the sort of book that I'd describe as a holiday read, or when you need a total escape from the humdrum of everyday life.   The story races along at a fast pace, and although I did find Poppy quite annoying at times, she is pretty realistic.  Another reason why I'm probably not the best person to read this - I do get annoyed by squealing, silly girls these days - my 'grumpy old woman' days are well and truly here!

Poppy and Jazz decide to swap lives.  Jazz has got herself into debt, and they decide that the best way to deal with this problem is a life swap.  I'm not really sure why they came to that decision, but it does set the story up pretty well.   What follows is a host of disasters, relationships, mishaps and to be honest, quite a lot of laughs.

This is a story that is very readable, will not tax the brain and will appeal to chic-lit fans.  I think that Laura Barnard has lots of potential as an author, her characters are colourful, her plotting is well thought out, despite being a little crazy.  A fun read, but more suited to a younger audience than myself.

I'd like to say thanks to Laura Barnard who sent my copy for review.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

Issy Randall, proud owner of The Cupcake Cafe, is in love and couldn't be happier. Her new business is thriving and she is surrounded by close friends, even if her cupcake colleagues Pearl and Caroline don't seem quite as upbeat about the upcoming season of snow and merriment. 
But when her boyfriend Austin is scouted for a possible move to New York, Issy is forced to face up to the prospect of a long-distance romance. And when the Christmas rush at the cafe - with its increased demand for her delectable creations - begins to take its toll, Issy has to decide what she holds most dear. 
This December, Issy will have to rely on all her reserves of courage, good nature and cinnamon, to make sure everyone has a merry Christmas, one way or another . . .

I do love Christmas, I just hate all the argy-bargy that comes with it.  I like Christmas in December, preferably starting just the week before.  I hate being sick of Carols and decorations by the beginning of December and I hate the madness that descends upon people.

I don't tend to read a lot of Christmas themed books, mainly because I refuse to read any before December, and by the time December comes around, I haven't got the time to read more than a couple.

Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan was published in hardback by Sphere in 2012, the paperback was released in October this year and is the follow up to Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, which I reviewed back in September 2011.

For those who have already read Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, this is a welcome back to a cast of characters who feel like old friends.  For new readers, it's a chance to meet them all for the first time, and the story stands alone well as Jenny Colgan has helpfully included a brief introduction to set the scene.

A year ago Issy launched her new venture; The Cupcake Cafe.  The cafe is successful and has become a firm favourite in the neighbourhood. Issy has found a guy who she thinks might be the one.  Austin works in a bank and looks after his younger brother Darny, it's not the career that he dreamt of but when their parents were killed in a car accident, Austin was determined that he would raise Darny.   All seems well until Austin finds himself in New York and overwhelmed by the offer of a possible career move.  A move that would see him earn much more money and would allow Darny to attend a school that really understands and develops him.

Issy has a huge decision to make.  Her friends and supporters all live in England.  Pearl and her young son Louis who struggle on a daily basis to pay the bills.  Caroline, the materialistic soon-to-be divorcee and Helena with her new family.  How would Issy cope without them?  How would the cafe cope without Issy?

Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe is a funny and poignant story that will warm the heart and inject a hefty dose of Christmas spirit into the reader's life.   Jenny Colgan's characters bounce from the page as they grow and develop throughout the story.   Packed with juicy recipes, decorations and snow, this is the perfect Christmas read.

Jenny Colgan is the author of fifteen bestselling novels.  Her first novel featuring cupcake baker Issy Randall, Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe, was a Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller and won the 2012 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.  
Jenny is married with three children and lives in London and France.  

For more news, gossip and recipes from Jenny, visit:

Facebook: Jenny Colgan Books
Twitter: @jennycolgan