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Synopsis:

Holly Wright has had a difficult few years. After her mother’s death, she’s become expert at keeping people at a distance – including her boyfriend, Rupert.

But when Holly receives an unexpected letter explaining that an aunt she never met has left her a house on the Greek island of Zakynthos, the walls she has built begin to crumble. Arriving on the island, Holly meets the handsome Aidan and slowly begins to uncover the truth about the secret which tore her family apart.

But is the island where Holly really belongs? Or will her real life catch up with her first?

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You had me at ‘Greek island of Zakynthos’. The setting for this book, beautifully depicted on the cover, hooked me at once. What a perfect backdrop for romance.

I was expecting this novel to be a love affair with the island, and in some ways it is; but there is so much more on offer.

First, Holly’s love life. Strictly speaking, there should be no developing romance in the book, because Holly already has a boyfriend, the affable Rupert. But early on the author signals that their relationship is on a shaky footing, because Holly has become very adept at playing the part of good-little-girlfriend, rather than herself.

Enter Aidan, her next door neighbour on Zakynthos. It is easy to see why Holly is attracted to him, and not only because he is handsome, friendly and delightfully Irish: with Aidan, she is more herself than she has been for a long time; perhaps ever.

The romance story that unfolds has plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader turning the pages, and plenty of emotion. What I liked best about it was its realism; this isn’t a fairy tale, it is real life, and sometimes that is ugly and messy. The stark reality serves to heighten the moments of romantic connection, so that by the end of the book I was really rooting for Holly.

Alongside the romance, a second, and to my mind even more compelling, story unfolds, concerning Holly’s family. I was gripped by this aspect of the book, and profoundly moved in places. Poor Holly, who grew up so isolated and wounded by her mother, and has missed the chance to get to know her aunt in person. The island, however, offers her a new path, if only she can be brave enough to follow the clues to uncover the secret that tore her family apart.

That leads me to Holly’s personal journey through the book. This was the element with which I most identified. It is so easy to like Holly, and to wish her a brighter future beyond the shadow of her mother’s legacy. Over the course of the story, she warms up, as if the Zakynthos sun is infusing her with light and hope.

The denouement of the novel had me flying through the pages; it really is the perfect ending to the story, and an honest one. I closed the book satisfied and feeling each minute I’d spent in the reading was time well spent.

In all, this is a memorable debut novel with a good mix of poignancy and ‘feel-good’, and I look forward to reading more books by the author.

My Map of You is available to order from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.

my-map-of-you

Synopsis:

Sometimes help comes from the most unlikely of hands, and sometimes getting lost is the surest way to be found.

Anica Tomlin, business major, has just learned that the man she’s been planning her future around, her Global Finance professor, already has a beautiful wife and family. Ani cashes in her graduation gift to herself a little early–a trip to Tuscany–but from the moment she boards the wrong train in Pisa, her plans for solitude and self-indulgence begin to unravel around her.

When a bicycle accident thrusts Ani into the skilled hands of the dashing Dr. Cosimo Lazzaro, she reluctantly accepts his invitation to recover in his family’s country villa, perched on a hilltop surrounded by the Lazzaro olive groves. But it’s been a black year for olive growers all over Italy, and generations of tradition are being put to the test like never before.

Ani is swept up in the drama of life in Tuscany, the convergence of old and new, and the passions that drive people to pursue the desires of their hearts. Just as Ani begins to get her feet under her again, an unexpected turn of events leaves her doubting the very existence of happily-ever-after, unless she can learn to trust the desires of her own heart.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thoroughly enjoyed this sensitively written novel.

I chose All the Way to Heaven to read based on its setting. Tuscany is one of my favourite places (hence I set part of my own novel The Echoes of Love there); asAmerican poet Oscar Fay Adams put it: ‘Tuscany, land of fierce hates and wild loves and of limitless passions.’ I eagerly pick up books that will transport me to the inspiring landscapes and culture of the area, and this book did not disappoint at all. The setting is painted in rich, luxuriant colours, as seen through the eyes of young Anica, and is the perfect backdrop for her personal journey. In fact, I defy anyone to read this novel and not long to book a trip to Tuscany!

I very much enjoyed the depiction of local people in the book, and how Anica integrates with them rather than standing apart as a tourist. There is such warmth to the Italian characters in the book, which feels authentic and delightfully homely.

I also loved the references to Giacomo Puccini operas; I could almost hear the music running as a ‘booktrack’ as I read. Indeed, I soon became distracted and had to put down the book and put on a Puccini CD for background music before getting lost in the story once more.

I was initially a little sceptical about the affair from which Anica was running, but I soon settled into her story and felt affinity with her, and sympathy for her romantic past. I loved how the author introduced two potential romantic interests for Ani in Tuscany. It certainly kept me on my toes as I read, trying to decide for myself which of the two she should be with and why each man acted as he did. The mystery was compelling!

But how can Anica be with either of these man when she is merely on holiday in Italy and her life awaits her back in the United States? This question plagued me the further I read, but the author handles its answer beautifully, in a way that simultaneously surprised and thrilled me.

Ultimately, the love story in this book is one you’ll remember, and I think it stands out in the ‘clean romance’ category. But for me, the standout aspect of this book is Anica’s journey, her coming-of-age transformation from girl to woman.  The author writes, ‘sometimes getting lost is the surest way to be found.’ Ultimately, however, Anica is not found, but finds herself, because the true power in this book lies within the heroine.

All the Way to Heaven is available to order from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.

all-the-way-to-heaven

Synopsis:

Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in L.A. together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.

Can Ben’s relationship with Fallon—and simultaneously his novel—be considered a love story if it ends in heartbreak?

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I picked this book to review for several reasons. First, I keep hearing about Colleen Hoover, and I decided it was about time I read one of her books. Second, I love the (UK edition) cover: it’s so beautiful and made me think of Christina Perri’s haunting song ‘Jar of Hearts’. Third, I was intrigued by the premise, the echoes of One Day, which I love, and the muse–writer relationship.

It took me a little while to settle into the writing style and some of the language use, but I liked the colourful and punchy way the author writes. I was quickly engaged with the story, especially because the characters meet almost straightaway and in an attention-grabbing way.

As the story unfolded, I found myself become more and more emotionally invested with the characters, especially Fallon, and really believing in them. There is a grittiness to the writing that makes it immediate and quite difficult to detach from.

I liked the importance of career, a future path, for each of the main characters. There is always the sense that they will go somewhere, never stand still. At the beginning I ached for Fallon, whose dream of being an actress seemed entirely lost to her now.

More than anything, I was impressed by the author’s handling of the theme of beauty. Fallon is horrifically scarred, and as a result she is, understandably, very insecure about her looks. But Ben sees past those scars and is determined to help Fallon do so too, which elicits some moments so beautiful that they brought tears to my eyes.

As the climax built, I had already decided I was quite enjoying the book. Then: oh my goodness! The plot twists that the author introduces left me staggered, and so moved I had to put the book down and gather myself before continuing. Quite honestly, if you read this book for no other reason than you enjoy a clever and surprising twist, then you will not be disappointed.

This book is an easy recommendation, and has proved to be a wonderful introduction for me to Colleen’s writing.

November 9 is available to order from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.

cover

From the blurb:

Bienvenue à Paris!

When April Vogt’s boss tells her about an apartment in the ninth arrondissement that has been discovered after being shuttered for the past seventy years, the Sotheby’s continental furniture specialist does not hear the words “dust” or “rats” or “decrepit.” She hears Paris. She hears escape.

Once in France, April quickly learns the apartment is not merely some rich hoarder’s repository. Beneath the cobwebs and stale perfumed air is a goldmine, and not because of the actual gold (or painted ostrich eggs or mounted rhinoceros horns or bronze bathtub). First, there’s a portrait by one of the masters of the Belle Epoque, Giovanni Boldini. And then there are letters and journals written by the very woman in the painting, Marthe de Florian. These documents reveal that she was more than a renowned courtesan with enviable decolletage. Suddenly April’s quest is no longer about the bureaux plats and Louis-style armchairs that will fetch millions at auction. It’s about discovering the story behind this charismatic woman.

It’s about discovering two women, actually.

With the help of a salty (and annoyingly sexy) Parisian solicitor and the courtesan’s private diaries, April tries to uncover the many secrets buried in the apartment. As she digs into Marthe’s life, April can’t help but take a deeper look into her own. Having left behind in the States a cheating husband, a family crisis about to erupt, and a career she’s been using as the crutch to simply get by, she feels compelled to sort out her own life too. When the things she left bubbling back home begin to boil over, and Parisian delicacies beyond flaky pâtisseries tempt her better judgment, April knows that both she and Marthe deserve happy finales.

Whether accompanied by croissants or champagne, this delectable debut novel depicts the Paris of the Belle Epoque and the present day with vibrant and stunning allure. Based on historical events, Michelle Gable’s A Paris Apartment will entertain and inspire, as readers embrace the struggles and successes of two very unforgettable women.

I absolutely loved the premise of the book. The Parisian apartment on which this story is based captured my imagination when it was discovered some years back, and I was thrilled to discover an author had been inspired by it for a fictional work.

Of the two women’s stories, Marthe’s most enthralled me. I absolutely loved the depiction of her era – the Belle Epoque– and all the colourful characters and behaviours that characterised it. It was a little like the setting for the movie Moulin Rouge, only much more detailed and lively. Don’t expect lyrical beauty, though; there is gritty, and sometimes necessarily indelicate, description of the times. But I was impressed by the author’s research; I really felt like I was plunged into the past.

The modern-day heroine, Alice, didn’t initially intrigue me in the same way as Marthe did, although I found affinity in her deep emotional attachment to the apartment and to uncovering, through Marthe’s journals, the story behind it. But as Alice’s story unfolded, a powerful poignancy emerged which really affected me; I was quite moved by the revelation of her backstory and I gelled a lot better with Alice once I understood what had shaped her actions and attitudes.

Heroines aside, I enjoyed the character of Luc, the solicitor, in the book; indeed, he reminded me of several French men I have met, so I think he was perfectly painted. But in truth the men of this book are secondary; it is the women who dominate, placing this in the women’s literature genre.

Beyond the characters and the setting, another element of the book really shone for me: the collection of precious objects in Marthe’s apartment which Alice’s firm must catalogue for auction. As a collector myself, I was fascinated by the descriptions of the many weird and wonderful treasures and their provenance. Central is a painting by Boldini of Marthe, and the author beautifully showcases this art in the novel. I only wish this novel came with photograph inserts! But a quick Google search can lead the reader to several news stories about the real-life apartment of Mrs De Florian, with accompanying pictures. The Boldini is a must-see.

Finally, no review of this book would be complete without touching on the connections the author draws between characters. Without wishing to include any spoilers, I will simply say that the denouement had me entirely gripped and tearing through the pages to learn who the owner of the apartment is and how every loose thread in Marthe’s story ties up. I loved the ending of the book; I’d go so far as to say it is the most satisfying and delightful ending I have read in a long while. And the very final page… c’est magnifique!

I would highly recommend this book for readers who love historical context and clever re-imaginings of the past; who like colourful and realistic descriptions; who enjoy interesting and honestly flawed characters with depths; who delight in a well-written book with cleverly interwoven connections and revelations; who want to read a book with heart.

A Paris Apartment is available to pre-order from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.

From the blurb:

Elizabeth Bennet never imagined her own parents would force her to marry a virtual stranger.

But when Mrs. Bennet accuses Fitzwilliam Darcy of compromising her daughter, that is exactly the outcome. Trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage and far from home, she grows suspicious of her new husband’s heart and further, suspects he is hiding a great secret. Is there even a chance at love given the happenstance of their hasty marriage?

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Suddenly… I have come over all Austen! In truth, my favourite romantic work of English literature has always been Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I have read and enjoyed Pride and Prejudice in the past, but I never quite caught the Darcy fever. Until now…

I thoroughly enjoyed this re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice, in which Darcy and Elizabeth are plunged into marriage after a misinterpretation that leaves Elizabeth’s honour in question. I love that the author takes the ‘happy ever after’ point of the original book and turns it on its head, bringing the two characters together long before love has kindled.

The author’s knowledge of the Austen classic is superb; any Austen fan can read this book and entirely relax that no sacrilege of their beloved book will occur on the pages. I found so much of the reworking very clever against the original; the plot is imaginative and intricately crafted, and the understanding and interpretation of Austen’s characters is sound.

The writing style blends beautifully with the original, so I felt I really was reading classic literature, albeit there is a more modern pace that kept me turning the pages, eager to find out what would happen next. I loved the focus on dialogue, which is lively and brings the characters to life, and it felt true to life for the era to me.

Most of all, I enjoyed the lead characters, Mr and Mrs Darcy. Elizabeth is just as I’d expect her to be, had the twist of marring Darcy early on happened in the original story. She is impossible not to love, even as she makes wrong assumptions and mistakes; her heart is so good and honest. But it is Fitzwilliam Darcy who shines most in the book, which any Darcy fan will adore. He is himself absolutely, and so attractive for that!

I found the book to be a surprisingly emotional read, more so than Pride and Prejudice, due to a very painful time that Elizabeth and Darcy go through (which had echoes of Gone with the Wind, I think). I was very moved by the connection between the characters at that time, and especially by Darcy’s care. The love that grows between them is beautiful and powerful, and it was a delight to be able to experience this along with them in a way that the reader cannot in Pride and Prejudice.

My only complaint is this: when the book ended, I wanted more! Please write another, Ms James, and make it longer still. It is an absolute pleasure to visit a story world of your making.

Suddenly Mrs Darcy is available to pre-order from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.

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