Meet My Mini Bookworm

I've already mentioned that I have a little book worm, and to prove it here she is!

This was taken about 2 and a half years ago when she was a toddler. I thought she was tucked up in her own room but found her in my bed like this, after her first raiding of my bookshelves.

And what great taste she has, queen of chick lit herself- Sophie Kinsella's The Secret Dreamworld Of A Shopaholic. I wonder what she was dreaming about? Shoes and handbags maybe? I hope she isn't going to follow Becky Bloomwoods expensive taste... I better start saving now!

I'll be reviewing and talking about some of our favourite kids books very soon, with some opinions from the one that matters too....my little princess!

Review: Bad Friends by Claire Seeber

When 30-year-old TV producer Maggie Warren is involved in a traumatic coach crash, she has no idea that her nightmare is only just beginning. When she wakes up in hospital she can't remember why she and her boyfriend Alex split up, and the events of the summer previously that keep being held against her. As if that wasn't bad enough, someone seems to have it in for her and won't stop till she is dead. With no recollection of 'that' summer and the finger of suspicion pointing to everyone close by, who can Maggie trust, and who is a truly Bad Friend?

I started this book with great expectations, as the first couple of pages set the scene extremely well. It starts with a glimpse into the future and Maggie being pursued by person unknown, and then quickly goes back in time a few months to the fateful night on the coach. This was brilliant way to hook me in and make sure I kept on reading, as immediately it's both thrilling and suspenseful.

Unfortunately, my joy only lasted a couple of chapters. As Maggie recovers from the accident and returns to work, we are introduced to her TV land lifestyle and colleagues. Now, I have no personal experience of people who work in TV, but I am sure not all of them are like the clichés found here. From the mega bitch, chat show diva, Renee, the bullying slime ball exec. Charlie and sulky, son of someone important (I didn't care who) work experience boy, Joe. I was bored and unimpressed by these two dimensional characters, who were all completely detestable, darling!

Maggie herself was grating on my nerves here, with her neurotic whining and moaning, especially about her job. The boyfriend who she wakes up to find is no longer her boyfriend, is an alcoholic bully and I couldn't understand her pining for him. Maggie is also a little too fond of champagne and claret and I felt like screaming 'Put down the bottle and get a backbone for god sake!' Infact the only interesting character was Faye, fellow crash survivor who now seems to be infatuated by Maggie.

I was on the verge of just giving up altogether on this book, but due to sheer laziness to get out of bed and choose something else, I carried on. It turns out, I'm glad I did as the story really began to intensify and gather a quick pace.

The story is written in such a way that everyone becomes a suspect, and I loved this. I really didn't have a clue who was actually terrorizing Maggie, or indeed if most of it was in her own mind. Each time I'd decided who it was, something would be revealed about another character and I'd change my mind.

Not only was I intrigued by who was stalking Maggie and why, but the mystery of what had happened in the summer and saw Maggie alone on a coach at night in the first place, was dangled like a tantalizing secret throughout. One thing I was a little unsure about was that Maggie remembered what had happened early on in the book, but it's not shared with the reader until almost the end. I can't decide if I liked this, as the book is told in the first person by Maggie, it felt something was being kept away from me. I've read quite a few books featuring amnesia recently, and I think I prefer memories being revealed as they are remembered, in flashbacks. I think this would have made me connect with Maggie far more, rather than leaving me feeling left out. When I read a book written in the first person, you expect to feel as if you inside this persons mind, and I didn't feel that with Bad Friends. It did however keep me intrigued.

What I did like about this book was the growth of Maggie, from someone I really disliked to someone I could feel empathy for. There are a couple of little sub plots about Maggie's childhood and family which were touching and nicely written. I went from thinking she was a shallow, self-absorbed and completely uninterested in her, to really thinking she had had a rough ride and rooting for her.

Bad Friends is a pretty easy read. At just under 400 pages, for the most part it's fast paced and intriguing and a good page-turner. However, that few chapters in the beginning nearly stopped me from reading the book at all, and pulls down my overall opinion of the book. The beginning promised so much, and the ending really did deliver, with plenty of suspense and guesswork along the way. If your looking for something that doesn't require much effort with a psychological twist, I'd say give it a go. I'm glad I kept on reading and ended up really enjoying the final half of the book, which I thought, was excellent. I just wish I'd been able to relate to Maggie sooner and then this would have been a definite 4 star read.

My Rating: 3/5

Review: The Secret Shopper Unwrapped by Kate Harrison

The Secret Shopper Unwrapped joins Emily, Grazia and Sandie two years after The Secret Shoppers Revenge ended. Things have moved quite a way for the three friends, who met in the first book as mystery shoppers for the secretive and shady Charlie. These days though, Emily is playing happy families with love of her life Will and keeping her own shop. Grazia is finally recovering from the death of her beloved artist husband, Leon, and tentatively making steps to a new relationship. Sandie, having made the biggest change of all, is now running her own shopping consultancy business and has moved in with her loaded ex boss, Toby and is blissfully in love. However, it seems that beyond the façade, all three woman are yet again in a period of turmoil and uncertainty. Can the friends come together again to help each other through their tough times?

What really stuck out for me in this book is that unlike the first, shopping was a mere whisper in the background this time around. Yes it's still there, but it's the three friends personal stories that manipulate the pages, and I liked this. I felt I really got to know and care for each and everyone.

Despite the fluffy shopping theme, some pretty deep and sensitive issues are tackled in this book, and with great sensitivity too. Sandie in particular has a pretty rough ride and has to make some heartbreaking decisions. In the original book, I didn't really warm to her all that much. However, as we delve deeper into her life and her vulnerability is revealed, I really started to like and empathise with her very much. I also really enjoyed the softer side of Grazia, who, is revealed in this book. Her particular story is both sad and funny at the same time, and I loved the flamboyant and blunt, but incredibly kindhearted Italian glamourpus. I think what makes Kate Harrison's characters work so well is the complete belief I had in them. They are real, down to earth and I can actually imagine knowing them.

The exception, or weak link, however was Emily. It's not that she is terrible; on the whole I like her. I have a problem with her slight ridiculousness at times though, and I found one storyline involving her, pretty far fetched. I remember feeling the same when reading the first book, where her story dominated. In this one she plays less of a role, and the other characters manage to over shadow her so I didn't find it too much of an issue.

The characters are given a first person narrative, and each speaks for a chapter at a time, titled with the name so it's easy to tell whom you are with at anytime. I honestly think that even if the chapter was left untitled, once you knew the characters you would be able to identify them, as Kate Harrison gives each of them their own distinctive voice and personality. The friends don't actually spend a lot of time together, and I think it especially to her credit that the author manages to create three very different personalities, keep them all distinctive, realistic and deep enough that by the end of the book you feel like you know them well. I do think that this book wouldn't work as well as a stand-alone book, and would recommend that you read the first in the series, as a lot of background is set there. To keep fresh, Harrison introduces another character, Kelly, who slotted in beautifully. Again she is different and distinctive from the three original characters and with her Kate Harrison introduces a darker element to the book. Kelly was another fabulously real and believable character and I found her story intriguing.

'Secret Shopper Unwrapped' is themed around Christmas, and is quite festive. This was a perfect book to treat myself to over the recent holidays, but I think it could equally be enjoyed at anytime of the year. If you read and enjoyed 'Secret Shoppers Revenge' you will love this book, which takes us deeper into the lives of the three women. I'd highly recommend both of them, but I do think this is by far the better of the two. Kate Harrison's secret shopper books manage to mix fun with serious issues and create very real characters that by the end you will feel are your own friends who you have laughed and cried with. I can't wait for the third book in the series, due out in in 2011 I believe.

My Rating: 5/5

Published by orion in 2009
ISBN 978-1409107309

Review: The Book Of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern

When her Father commits suicide and leaves the previously wealthy family penniless, 16-year-old Tamara Goodwin and her mother are forced to move from their luxury home and in with her simple, country type, Aunt and Uncle. Miles away from her friends, expensive school and designer shops, Tamara is grieving, lonely and confused, not helped by her aunt's secretive and strange behaviour and her mothers decline into a deep depression. But when Tamara discovers an old leather bound and padlocked book in a travelling library van, she has no idea of its magical properties and just how much her life is going to change.

I am one of the very few people who wasn't all that impressed by Cecelia Ahern's successful debut novel, PS.I Love You. While others raved about it, I was a bit 'meh' about the whole thing, and thought Marian Keyes did a similar story far better in Is Anybody Out There? Being so under whelmed by that book, I have avoided Cecelia's subsequent novels. That is until her latest book, released in October, caught my eye. With the most stunning cover and an intriguing premise, I decided it was time to give Cecelia Ahern another go.


Despite having some doubts about whether this was a book I would enjoy, I was surprised to find myself hooked from the very first page. The book is told in the first person, from Tamara, and I have to say I think Ahern got this character spot on. Tamara is spoilt and used to having her own way, and risked being an unlikable character, however I loved the way she was dry and sarcastic about herself and her lifestyle. I found rather than being annoyed by her, I was easily able to sympathise with her. I think it must be pretty awful to go from privileged to penniless, especially when that is all you know and at such an age, without having lost a parent to suicide. I never doubted Tamara's thoughts or emotions for one second and despite being (much) older than the character, related to her straight away. I could even understand and forgive her occasional temper tantrums, such as screaming that she wants a gingerbread latte and she wants it now! It's easy for the reader inside Tamara's mind to recognise it's not about the latte, and care for the scared and vulnerable child beneath.

I also found Tamara's aunt, Rosaleen to be a well-written character, and Aherns descriptions of her made her easy to visualize and bring to life. I picked up quickly on a sinister side to Rosaleen, but for the life of me, I couldn't work it out. In fact, there's a huge family secret at the centre of the book, and despite me making numerous guesses and thinking 'ahhh..I bet...), it wasn't until the very last pages when it was fully revealed that I got it. This book had me turning the pages and completely unable to put down, so much so that I finished it in one night. I'd taken it into the bath and became so absorbed that before I released I'd been in over an hour and a half and the water was freezing! I'd recommend not starting this book on the bus or you may just miss your stop!

The mystery within the book is fantastic and completely unexpected, but making the story unique is the magical element in the form of Tamara's book. This is what drew me to the book in the first place, as although I'm not a fan of the fantasy genre, a little magic and fairytale certainly appealed to me as something different. The book is certainly different, but perhaps the magic-ness of the book was one of the weakest parts of the story. I just felt it wasn't used to it's full potential, was a little confusing and never properly explained. As a break from the norm though, it did offer an interesting slant.

I do have a criticism of the book, in that at 319 pages it was just too short! The first 100 pages are where we learn about Tamara, her father and family and move to the sticks. From finding the book it felt a little rushed. This brings me back to the point about the magic of the book being the weakest point, and I do feel it could easily have been a longer tale and looked deeper into The Book Of Tomorrow itself. Part of me actually wonders if the story would be hugely affected without it, and I think it would still be a compelling read. However, I love chic-lit that is different and enjoyed it's inclusion so would rather have had a longer story going just that little bit deeper into the magic.

While I don't think Cecelia Ahern is the greatest writer, she certainly provides a fast paced and fascinating narrative in this book. It's been a while since I became so involved in a story; I really couldn't put it down. Some people might find huge holes in the story and need to dissect it, but I think this is definitely one you need to just enjoy for what it is. It's an easy read, with a gripping and original story although I would say it's far from run of the mill chic-lit. It tackles love, betrayal, family secrets and bereavement and manages to be sad, funny, suspenseful, captivating and original. I think the book would appeal to older teenagers and anyone who enjoys chick-lit and fancies something unusual. I highly recommend Cecelia Ahern' The Book Of Tomorrow...just make sure you have a few hours to spare when you begin, as I guarantee you won't be able to put it down!


The Book Of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (1 Oct 2009)
ISBN 978-0007233700
My Rating: 4/5

Review Policy

I buy a LOT of books monthly. Unless otherwise stated in the review you can presume that I have purchased a book myself.

I am happy to be approached by publishers and authors with review requests. Please see my about me page for information about the genres I read and review.

I endeavor to read and publish a review in a timely manner for all accepted requests (usually around release date for books sent ahead of publication) I am honest in my reviews and will point out what I liked or disliked about a book, however I am always fair. I also publish reviews to amazon, goodreads as well as other UK consumer sites.

If you would like to contact me with a review request you can email me at Rhiana-Reads@live.com

About Me

I love reading...no surprises there I guess! I usually read between 2-4 books a week, and prefer snuggling up with a book than watching TV (although I do have a penchant for reality TV and talent contests!)

I enjoy reading Young Adult books. I love how I can read through many genres but still relate to the theme of being a teenager (which despite not being anymore, I still feel inside!) I've discovered many wonderful books in genres I wouldn't have read in adult literature. I also like reading chick lit and womens fiction, although this is becoming less of an occurrence these days. I'm an old romantic at heart, so a good old love story always goes down well.

I also enjoy Chick Lit and Contempory Women's Fiction

Favourite authors: Lisa Jewell, Celia Rees, Margaret Leroy, Audrey Niffenegger, Sophie Kinsella, Lauren Oliver, Simone Elkeles


I have a five year old daughter who is shaping up to be every bit as much of a bookworm as her Mum, and I've included a new feature, Kids Corner, where I can share the books we've been reading together. Prepare for much cuteness!

I'm just a person who loves to read and enjoys reviewing, sharing and chatting books.Other likes are make up, hot bubble baths, rose wine, Pyjama's and Dr who. I miss david Tenant though.

Tell It To The Skies by Erica James

The beautiful city of Venice has been Lydia's home for many years, a place where she has found peace and fulfilment. Then one day she glimpses a young man's face in the crowd that threatens to change everything. He's a heart-stopping reminder of a dreadful secret she believed she had banished to the past ...As a young child, Lydia and her sister were sent to live with grandparents they'd never even met before. It was a cruel and loveless new world for them and it forced Lydia to grow up fast. She learned to keep secrets and to trust sparingly, and through it all she was shadowed by grief and guilt. Now, twenty-eight years later, Lydia is persuaded to leave behind the safe new life she has created for herself and return to England to face the past. And maybe her future.

From the very beginning of this book I was completely enthralled. Lydia's story starts to enfold very quickly, so within the first few pages I was hooked and desperate to know who the mystery man was and why he affected her so much. It's during a heart to heart with her brother in law that the story of Lydia and Noah's past begins to unfold, and we are transported back to 1970's England and are told about two young children who are thrown together after loosing their parents and severe trauma.

Lydia and Noah's relationship as children is quite simply, beautiful to read. Right from meeting at 9 years old as new pupils and outcasts at school, I found the bond between them to be just magical. Both children have been deeply disturbed, but in each other find solace and a soul mate. Set in the 1970's, Erica James really does bring the era back to life with her descriptions and I found it easy to just slip right inside this story. As Lydia and Noah grow, so does their relationship. Their first tentative steps towards each other is so touchingly well written, it actually brought tears to my eyes. Always throughout the book I was rooting for both of them, who are equally well-written, strong and complex characters.

At times the book is a little upsetting, as abuse and neglect is tackled within the pages. Religion, or extreme religion, is also tackled. Lydia's Grandparents, who are taking care of her, are members of a cult like church, and this adds a sinister undercurrent to the story. As well as the fantastically believable Lydia and Noah, the book is also littered with deep, solid and realistic characters who range from wonderful in their simplicity to chilling in their evil, twisted and dark nature. When I began this book, I wasn't really expecting a mystery or thriller, but the author manages to craftily set the scene and then spring a mystery upon the reader, which kept me guessing till the outcome was revealed.

If I had one criticism of the book, it would be at almost 500 pages, it seemed a little too long. For the vast majority of the book it is fast paced and engaging, the pages just turning themselves. However, toward the end of the book I felt it went beyond it's natural conclusion and included an unnecessary new storyline. I think to make it absolutely perfect, 50 pages could have been cut from the book. I wouldn't say this ruined the book for me, however I definitely found the pace changed and became keen to have everything wrapped up.

Other than that small niggle, the book was almost perfect for me. I would say that this book falls into the woman's fiction category, however I think that it would appeal to a wider audience than this. It's a coming of age book, sinister and chilling, a love story, with a bit of a mystery thrown in to boot. I'm not convinced the rather wishy-washy cover does it any justice, and the book may be passed over as being fluffier than it actually is.

My Rating: 4

Book Review: A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff

Do fairytale dresses bring fairytale endings? Every dress has a history, so does Phoebe! Phoebe always dreamt of opening her own vintage dress shop. She imagined every detail, from the Vivienne Westwood bustiers hanging next to satin gowns, to sequined cupcake dresses adorning the walls. At the launch of Village Vintage, Phoebe feels the tingle of excitement as customers snap up the fairytale dresses. Her dream has come true, but a secret from her past is casting a shadow over her new venture. Then one day she meets Therese, an elderly Frenchwoman with a collection to sell, apart from one piece that she won't part with ! As Therese tells the story of the little blue coat, Phoebe feels a profound connection with her own life, one that will help her heal the pain of her past and allow her to love again.

To be honest,from the stunning cover of this book, I was expecting something fluffy and glamorous with lots of descriptions of beautiful designer gowns. I got the gowns in abundance, sometimes in too much detail, but what I wasn't expecting was a deep and slightly harrowing sad story and a bit of a mystery to be solved too.

I loved the friendship which develops between Phoebe and Therese, it really is beautiful. Both women's stories of betrayal and guilt are touching and not always as you expect. There were a number of times throughout the book when I thought I knew which way things were headed, or knew how something had came about only to be proved wrong. Therese's story in particular is shocking and stunning, and a theme I was not at all expecting to find in what seemed a glaringly obvious chick-lit. As she tells Phoebe the story and her regret, Phoebe is eager to solve the mystery and bring peace to her new friend and I found this element intriguing. It's not a thrilling mystery full of fear and suspense, but I was still captivated by it and eager to find out.

Through Phoebe's customers a number of sub plots are introduced. I really liked the individual little stories that came in here, some would only last a page while others wove in and out of the story. These little stories really brought to life the beauty of vintage ball gowns, each dress having it's own history and inspiring and empowering the modern women who fall in love with them. I really could relate to most of these women and their story.

I don't know if Isabel Wolff had a keen interest in vintage clothing before writing this novel, she certainly comes across as being quite passionate about her subject. It is clear that she researched meticulously though, and I did find at times she become too absorbed in describing the garments and their designers, distracting the reader from the plot. I found myself skimming over some descriptions and was always eager to return to Therese's story. It wasn't just the clothing where I found the book wandering into over detail either. At times a seemingly ridiculous amount of time was spent telling somewhat irrelevant events. One such example was when Phoebe takes part in a radio interview promoting her new shop. This covered 4 pages and was the complete script from the fictional interview, which may have been interesting if listening to it on the radio while stuck in traffic, but was tedious to read. It also held no real relevance to the story and a brief mention would have sufficed. Again, I found myself skimming over such sections. The book is 420 pages long and I do feel it could have been cut by around 50 pages.

Of course no chick-lit novel would be complete with 2 potential love interests to puzzle over, and we are not disappointed in A Vintage Affair. There's Miles, the dashing, rich, sophisticated 'older' man with a teenage spoilt brat from hell in tow, and the dishevelled, amusing, caring and down to earth Dan. This follows a predictable tried and tested path, but I'm not complaining...it's what we girls want from our chick-lit right? The other chick-lit staple also not emitted from this novel is the dizzy Mother of Phoebe, full of neurosis's and age crisis's. Lot's of chick-lit seem to have the same personality for the main characters Mother (Bridget Jones and Shopaholic are 2 that spring to mind) and are characters I do not relate too at all! My mother is nothing like these upper middle class, vain an neurotic house wives and I do find this portrayal of 50-60 year old women a bit annoying.

Criticisms aside this is a very good novel. Isabel Wolff is an accomplished writer, and it shows. Her characters and plots have more depth than the standard chick-lit authors. She weaves various different story lines effortless so that I never found the book difficult to follow. I did find this an easy read, but one with a heartfelt and intriguing original plot which surprised me often throughout. I found it emotional at times, welling up with tears on a couple of occasions. I cared deeply about the main characters, Phoebe and Mrs. Bell, empathising with both of their stories and hoping they found the peace they deserved. I even felt the smaller characters in the sub plots were drawn well enough for me to care about them and their stories.

My Rating: 4

Book Review: Before We Say Goodbye by Louise Candlish

'Why did she direct me to the only man in the world who can make me feel like this?' The day Maggie Lane dies, she sends her daughter Olivia a letter containing dangerous information: the address of Olivia's first love, Richie Briscoe. Olivia has not seen Richie for over twenty years, not since his desertion of her as a teenager almost destroyed her for good. She cannot understand why her mother's last act should be to stir up old drama like him. Convinced that the note represents an admission of guilt, Olivia sets off for the idyllic seaside village where Richie now lives with his young daughter Wren. Soon she has fallen for him all over again - and found in little Wren the daughter she never had. But there is a problem. For Olivia already has a husband and two sons. And where does this second chance at happiness put them?

I had mixed feelings throughout reading this book. It started off quite well, with Olivia meeting her terminally ill mother on the eve of her death, her mother trying to apologise and Olivia not allowing her to do so. I was instantly intrigued and drawn into the plot, what exactly had Maggie done that resulted in her daughter, and son Dean, hate her so much?

However, as the mystery of the letter containing Richie's address began to take shape, I started to really struggle with the book. The main reason for this was that I just couldn't connect or relate with Olivia as a character at all. When she arrives in Richie's village she doesn't tell him why she is there, and to begin with plans only to stay a couple of days, but ends up just hanging around. This is clearly supposed to be some sort of breakdown resulting from her mother's death, however I feel it was so flippantly handled by the author it just didn't ring true. I found it very difficult to believe in. I didn't have an issue about her leaving her own children, I do feel I would have been able to empathise with this, but despite being written in the first person from Olivia, I found the writing to be quite unemotional and detached. In an emotive plot like this I feel it's vital the reader can empathise and become emotionally involved with the lead character. Unfortunately on this occasion I could not and I didn't really have a clue what she was feeling or what was driving her.

It wasn't just Olivia I found unbelievable as a character. Richie also had me bewildered. I'm fairly certain if an ex from my youth turned up twenty years later, having walked out on their life and clearly in the midst of a nervous breakdown, I'd have some questions. Richie just accepts that she's hanging around him like a stalker, in fact he leaves his own 5 year old daughter with Olivia. I couldn't accept anyone would be like this, and again it didn't ring true. It all seemed contrived and quite unlikely.

I was able to sympathise with Olivia's husband, Russell, who we visit regularly through the book in the third person. I found that when the author was writing this way, things were vastly improved. I think perhaps the whole book would have been better this way, as Olivia just isn't deep enough for the first person narrative she is given to carry this story off. There were also some humorous and incredibly endearing moments here, as he struggles to tackle domesticity and childcare as well as a full-time job. I liked him very much and thought he was very well written.

However, things weren't all bad and there were also some very good parts. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks to Olivia's own childhood, littered throughout the book. I found young Olivia far easier to relate too, was completely drawn in to the intensity of her and Richie's young love affair, and the following devastation she feels when he leaves. I also found Olivia's mother, Maggie an intriguing and complex character. I'd have loved to know more about her.

Another praise I have for the book overall is that I never quite knew where it was going. I had ideas forming in my head, but it ended up not being the case, and despite my other criticisms it certainly wasn't predictable. The book came full circle and ended extremely well. The final 100 pages were by far the best and although I'd been able to take it or leave it for much of the middle, I couldn't put it down in the end. In the final 5 pages I found myself feeling the emotions I'd really wanted to feel all the way through and ended the story with a lump in my throat and feeling pleased I'd persevered, as at one point I was on the verge of giving up completely. The only thing that kept me going was that I had nothing else with me to read.

Overall, I found this a disappointing book. While there were highs to the story, they just didn't outweigh the lows completely for me. The premise was great. It looked at how a mother's actions can affect her children, if it's possible to find forgiveness and is history always destined to repeat itself. It tackles a more taboo area, of a mother being selfish rather than selfless and a father being the constant and stable caring figure. This is an interesting and refreshing angle to take, as there are any amount of books about single mothers or woman who have been wronged by a man and I do applaud the author for writing a story showing the opposite can also be true. Sadly the two dimensional Olivia ruined what could have been a very good book and on the whole made it unbelievable and unmoving. I felt that Olivia's past and nervous breakdown were sold out for a tacky romance and that's a real shame.
My Rating: 2.5

Book Review: Strictly Love by Julia Williams

Guilty feet have got plenty of rhythm ! Kick off your shoes and snuggle up with this warm and witty new novel from the author of the bestselling Pastures New Lawyer Emily promised her late father that she'd devote her life to good causes. So how comes she spends her days defending Z-listers, desperate to prolong their 15 minutes of fame? Katie is obsessed with being the perfect wife and mother - unlike her own one. In which case, why is husband Charlie permanently AWOL these days? Dentist Mark is licking his wounds after his wife walked out on him and desperately missing his kids. Can he cope with becoming a singleton again - on top of a devastating legal case against him? Meanwhile, happy-go-lucky Jack the Lad Rob is hiding a secret tragedy! Isabella's dance class give the four the perfect opportunity to forget their troubles and re-invent themselves. They can be whoever they want to be - they'll just let their feet do the talking. Over the weeks, as they foxtrot, tango, waltz and cha-cha-cha their way into each other's lives, they discover the truth about each other - and themselves. But will they like what they learn?

I am a big fan of programs such as Strictly Come Dancing, and indeed that is what attracted me to the book in the first place. Strictly Love tells the story of a year in the life of four 30 somethings, all unhappy with how their life is panning out and decide to take up dancing classes for a bit of escapism.

Emily became a Lawyer after the death of her beloved Father from asbestos poisoning, when she decided she wanted a career that would make a difference to the working classes and take on large corporations. However, at the beginning of the book we find Emily has actually ended up representing 'Zedlebs' in London. Her boyfriend Callum is a rich and useless waste of space drug addict/party boy, and she is seriously disillusioned with her life.

Katy is Emily's more stable friend. She married the man she loved, has 3 gorgeous kids and a beautiful house, to the outsider she has a perfect life and works tirelessly to uphold the illusion. However behind closed doors, things are less than perfect. Katy's husband is becoming increasingly distant and her marriage faces breakdown. Katy meanwhile feels as a person she is lost in a frumpy world of motherhood, and reminisces fondly of her youthful dancing days.

Mark is a single father to two teenage girls, who he doesn't understand. His ex wife, Sam, is demanding and unreasonable, and left him for a more exciting partner. Forced to share a 3 bedroom semi, with best friend Rob, Mark is still in love with Sam, hates his job as a dentist and feels like an all round failure.

Rob, who flat shares with Mark, is a womanising commitment-phobe. At 35 he's the one who never grew up, and his sole interest in dancing is to pick up more women. However, there is a deeper side to Rob, which is revealed slowly.

The book is told in the third person, and skips quickly from one of the four to the other. It wasn't difficult to know which character we where reading from at any given time, however telling the view point of 4 different people in under 400 pages means that we don't really get to know each individual character very well.

Excepting Emily, I loved all the characters, and could relate either myself or people I know to them. Particularly Rob and Katy.

Katy is a fascinating woman, who despite feeling downtrodden remains intelligent and feisty. I would have much preferred the story to centre around Katy, with Emily perhaps as an annoying friend. And I suppose most of us knows a Rob, still acting like a student and chasing women despite being in his mid thirties! I liked how his story was slow to develop and led the reader from dislike to empathy at his situation.

Emily however grated from the minute she was introduced. I am guessing she was supposed to be an intelligent, independent career woman. Personally I found her to be a simpering idiot, weak willed and with little morals. Indeed when her fledgling relationship is threatened by a moral dilemma at work, which also raises questionable ethics, she does the wrong thing. I was screaming you 'Pathetic £%$"£' in my head.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book. It was incredibly easy to read, and did have some unexpected twists and turns making it not as predictable as one might first imagine! I think the big mistake was to tell the story from 4 view points. I loved Katy and thought her story alone would have been fantastic. And while I didn't like Emily, her tale had an interesting premise. I do think Julia Williams wrote very good female characters, even Sam, the nightmare ex, and Jasmine the zedleb have promise as interesting central characters in their own right.

My Rating: 3.5

Book Review: The Secret Shoppers Revenge by Kate Harrison

New mum Emily wants revenge on the stick-thin assistants who laugh at her post-baby tummy and post-baby budget. But frumpiness has its advantages when you're wielding a secret camera - and sending the damning footage straight to head office. Store manager Sandie has a lifelong love of the world of retail - the glitz, the glamour, the stockroom. Then she's fitted up by an ambitious assistant and secret shopping is the only way to keep her one passion alive. Glamorous widow Grazia can't leave behind the high life, despite her chronically low bank balance. The more she's buying - and spying - the less time she has to mourn her husband or her fair-weather friends who've dumped her. They're Charlie's Shopping Angels, controlled by a mysterious figure who sends them assignments. But when they're sent to stitch up a doomed shop owned by Will, the angels begin to feel divided loyalties ...

I was attracted to the book by the 'secret shopping' aspect. Having worked in retail customer service and experienced the terror of mystery shop results, hoping I hadn't been 'shopped' and failed. I was interested to read the secret shoppers take on things. I also really liked the cover, which is baby blue with pink glitter ribbons, it appealed to my girly side. Isn't it just gorgeous?

The story is told in the first person, by 3 very different women. Each chapter is titled with the woman's name so you know who you are reading from and don't get confused. The story tells what brings them together as 'Charlies Shopping Angels' and covers a year of their lives. However, don't be fooled into thinking this is a story just about shopping and bad service. It's a story about friendship, self discovery and a little bit of girl power.

The 3 women are Emily, Sandie and Grazia.

Emily is a single mum, after being uprooted to London while pregnant by her husbands job, then dumped for Heidi in Sweden. She knows no one, is a bit over-weight, ditzy and unorganised. I really liked Emily, as I identified with her most, being not the most organized mum ever as well, and a bit low in self confidence. She provides the comedy in this book, and her experiences are wrote really well. A slightly irritating trait the author gave her is that she's at times childlike, and comes across as stupid mostly in the middle area of the book. I'm dizzy and unorganized, but I'm not going to start jumping up and down clapping my hands in glee over a cream cake, I'm not sure why the Author felt she had to stupefy her like this, but it does pass in the second half of the book. I also found the story line involving her estranged husband a bit unbelievable, I can't imagine any woman feeling threatened into submission over his silly demands. I do think if we are to feel sympathy for Emily here, he needed to be more menacing.

Sandie has worked and lived for a huge department store all her working life, until she is set up by her deputy and finds herself jobless. Now this woman really did confuse me. Why would anyone not seek legal advice, especially someone we are expected to believe is very intelligent, I don't know. But she doesn't, she accepts her unfair fate, and becomes a Shopping Angel. There's not really that much to like or dislike about Sandie. She's a bit wet and boring and has a touch of OCD.

Grazia is an Italian widow and haunted by her famous artist husband, and the debts he left her. The leader of the shopping angels trio, at first she comes across very cold, but then her feisty, passionate nature is revealed. She's the strength in the group, although a bit of a culture snob. It was a bit difficult to feel any sympathy for her loss, as she seemed, in the first half of the book, to think her loss was greater as her husband was a 'great young artist' and she his muse. She often has conversations with him, and answers how he would have. This didn't inspire images of passionate artistic love between two soul mates, it just made me think he must have been a spoilt brat with an over inflated ego, which she fed.

Overall, this is a good read. It's original and funny enough, some of the characters are interesting, although there where parts I found very annoying. It's interesting enough to keep you turning the pages, and delivers pretty much everything you want from a chick-lit book. I'd recommend this for poolside reading on holiday, or when you just want an easy fun read.

Book Review: The Drowning Girl by Margaret Leroy

A haunted child. A desperate mother. An unspeakable truth. 'She's my daughter, but in some weird way I feel she isn't really my child'. Young single mum Grace is drowning. Her little girl Sylvie is distant, troubled and prone to violent tantrums which the child psychiatrists blame on Grace. But Grace knows there's something more to what's happening to Sylvie. There has to be. Travelling from the London suburbs to the west coast of Ireland, Grace and Sylvie embark on a journey of shocking discovery, forcing Grace to question everything she believes in and changing both their lives forever.

I actually grabbed this book in haste and wasn't really sure it was my kind of thing. However, to read, I it was far from what I actually expected, and I was entranced from the very first page. The Drowning Girl turned out to be a fantastic ghost story, touching on the super natural and reincarnation, full of suspense and with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.

The book is told in the first person from Grace. I identified and related to her from the very first page. The book begins at another child's birthday party. grace is the only single mother there, she feels intimidated and jealous of the more prosperous parents, and her daughter, Sylvie chooses this moment to have a huge tantrum/panic attack when some water splashes her face. Every feeling the author gives Grace is one I have had myself. She describes the people and events so perfectly you can place yourself right there. I was hooked straight away.

Grace is desperate to be close to her daughter Sylvie, and is constantly pushed away and hurt by her 4 year olds bizarre aloofness. It was easy to feel Graces pain at her daughters rejection, and understand her becoming angry. While I empathised completely with Grace, it was still impossible to dislike Sylvie, an enigma from the start, yet immediately gains sympathy from the reader. She is vulnerable, other worldly, beautiful and clearly very frightened. I loved this little girl right away, and wanted to just give her a hug myself. She is fascinating, and her relationship with her mother heart breaking.

Graces frustration with the professionals and friends around her is contagious. The author has a fantastic skill of depicting every character, no matter who small, with absolute realism. Alongside the brilliance with wich she gives Graces voice, it's very easy to become part of the story and has you reeling at the unjustness of people dismissing and pre judging Grace because of her age, marital status and class and something I can completely relate to.

As Grace looks for alternative answers, after being shunned by psychiatrists and having Sylvie expelled from nursery, she meets Adam, a psychologist with interest in the paranormal. Taking Sylvie to Ireland, things become more sinister than they imagined. I loved this part of the book the most. In Ireland the suspense is magnified. It's not an in your face and violent suspense, more a gentle spookiness which has you forgetting to breathe. The story unravels slowly and deliciously. Again the authors descriptive skill for both places and people reads beautifully.

There are some parts of the book which are a tad predictable. Grace and Adams relationship, for example, starts off with Adam clearly only interested in Sylvie and his research and him pressurising Sylvie horrifically and desperately. In Ireland things mellow, however, and romance is ever so slightly in the air. While I'm not sure if romance would be my top priority in Grace's position, it's easy to see how it happens here and it's written to be subtle and inoffensive, so doesn't become unrealistic or sexy, which would have cheapened and spoilt the book entirely for me.

I also correctly predicted a big 'twist' too. Not actually while reading the book, but after putting the book down to do some housework. An hour later, while hoovering the stairs, so haunted by this story and still thinking about it, it came to me. It wasn't predictable enough to ruin the rest of the book, there are other twists and turns I didn't predict and spent most of the book sitting upright in suspense, devouring each word and desperate to know what was going on. However I do feel a bit more work could have gone into this event/character to make it less predictable and more thrilling.

I finished this book in less than 24 hours. I managed 100 pages in a busy soft play place before even looking up, a great achievement giving the noise of over 50 kids! I found it to be one of those books which completely surprise you, engrossing you from the first page.

I'm not sure which genre to place this book. It's not a crime thriller, yet it has a murder mystery. It's not horror, but it's ghostly and other worldly. It's not real life, yet it feels as if it could be, at no time did any of the story feel contrived or fantasy and it left a lot of 'what Ifs?' in my head. If I had to liken this book to another author I have read, then I would say Jodi Piccoult, in the way she examines human relationships in extreme traumatic circumstances, but without the heavy factual language I find her books get bogged down with. I loved my sisters keeper, by Piccoult , for example, yet found the text book style medical and legal jargon a struggle. I found this book to be far easier to read than Piccoult, with more focus on the character, rather than the situation, and much more enjoyable. Leroy manages to make the idea of reincarnation seem a real possibility, no matter what your thoughts or beliefs are in this area.

I loved the lead character Grace, and her daughter Sylvie, and despite the slightly predictable parts I thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn't put it down. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a slightly gothic suspense, with a very original story.

(Also published with the title Yes My Darling Daughter in the US.)

My Rating: 4.5

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