Jenny Hale

The Summer House [Jenny Hale]

Some summers will stay with you forever…

Callie Weaver and best friend Olivia Dixon have finally done it: put their life savings into the beach house they admired through childhood summers, on the dazzling white sand of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. They’re going to buff the salt from its windows, paint its sun-bleached sidings, and open it as a bed and breakfast.

Callie’s too busy to think about her love life, but when she catches the attention of local heartthrob Luke Sullivan, his blue eyes and easy smile make it hard to say no. He’s heir to his father’s property empire, and the papers say he’s just another playboy, but as they laugh in the ocean waves, Callie realizes there’s more to this man than money and good looks.

Just when true happiness seems within reach, Callie and Olivia find a diary full of secrets… secrets that stretch across the island, and have the power to turn lives upside down. As Callie reads, she unravels a mystery that makes her heart drop through the floor.

Will Callie and Luke be pulled apart by the storm it unleashes, or can true love save them?

My thoughts on the book: This is the first “summer” book I’ve read from Jenny Hale. I had already reviewed one of her Christmas novels a few months ago and I had really enjoyed the author’s writing style. So I knew that I was likely to enjoy this new publication.

And the promise of a feel-good, romantic story has been delivered. I really had a lovely time delving into this heartwarming tale. The whole cast was endearing and easy to like. Although at first, I was having some reservations about the “millionaire” side of Luke.

I couldn’t not say anything about this element of the book, especially given that I sort of criticized this recurring theme/cliché in chick lit in my last review of the French translation of “A Night With Grace Kelly” by Lucy Holliday. But, last weekend Pippa Middleton did marry that kind of rare man, so it is not as unrealistic as one would think, right? Let’s accept this feature as part of the wild romantic fantasy we might all nurture to some extent at some point! 😊

Overall, I enjoyed seeing the main protagonists slowly get to know each other. The author really managed to write warm scenes with vivid, dynamic descriptions. I really was under the impression that the film was unfolding before my eyes.

The Summer House is a feel-good love story for the hopeless romantics we all secretly are. Luke is the dream boyfriend we’d all wish to meet one day — kind, supportive and reliable. I recommend this book if you need a sweet, easy read to escape.

My score:  ♥ ♥ ♥ (= I liked it a lot)

*****

Special question for the author: I’m having some doubts about a short sentence that I found a bit odd in the context of the hurricane taking place near the end. Since Luke is a wealthy man, how come his sister is worried about where he would stay if his house is destroyed? One would think that accommodation wouldn’t be a problem for a millionaire? Or did I miss something?

EDIT (May 24) : Jenny Hale kindly answered my question on Twitter. If you need some background info like me, here it goes:

In a year, 38 million people visit overnight on a strip of land a mere 200 mikes long. During a big storm, People need to be in town for repairs but it’s a busy little place and very few hotels. Thanks for the review! Glad you enjoyed it. And all those visitors have rented cottages so they’re all booked or destroyed during a hurricane. Hope all that makes sense! 🙂

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Cecelia Ahern

If You Could See Me Now [Cecelia Ahern]

1150655Elizabeth Egan’s life runs on order: Both her home and her emotions are arranged just so, with little room for spontaneity. It’s how she counteracts the chaos of her family — an alcoholic mother who left when she was young, an emotionally distant father, and a free-spirited sister, who seems to be following in their mother’s footsteps, leaving her own six-year-old son, Luke, in Elizabeth’s care. When Ivan, Luke’s mysterious new grown-up friend, enters the picture, Elizabeth doesn’t know quite what to make of him. With his penchant for adventure and colorful take on things large and small, Ivan opens Elizabeth’s eyes to a whole new way of living. But is it for real? Is Ivan for real?

My thoughts on the novel: For many years, I have been a huge fan of Cecelia Ahern’s books. They’re always full of hope and love, all wrapped up with some magical pixie dust. In this regard, the novel “If you could see me now” is in keeping with the author’s signature writing style.

However, I must admit that it took me a long while to really take to this story. There were some lengthy passages that made it difficult to remain focused and interested.

I thought it took a bit too long to set out the context, the characters and their personalities.

To be fair, the core plot/storyline is quite interesting. It’s about the role of imaginary friends in the life of children… and adults! Out of the blue, Ivan becomes visible to an adult Elizabeth whose life is rather deprived of magic and enchantment. She’s been through quite a family ordeal from a mother walking out on her, her troubled sister who keeps storming in and out of their lives, and her complex father.

It was witty to introduce a character like Ivan into Elizabeth’s life to help her put her move on and strive for real happiness.

I thought the style was true to Ahern’s most famous books. I actually really enjoyed the final chapters that I found poetic and lovely.

Although this novel isn’t one of my favourite from Ahern, it’s still worth reading it because of the message it conveys about hope, friendship and happiness.

My Score : ♥ ♥ (= I liked it)

 

Bridget Geraghty

Molly Bell and the Wishing Well [Bridget Geraghty]

Molly Bell is an eleven-year old girl who used to be a whimsical, sporty type of a child with a zest for living. All that has been turned upside down by the untimely death of her cherished mother two years ago. To make matters worse, her father is getting remarried to a high-maintenance beauty that Molly seemingly has nothing in common with, and she comes with an annoying six-year old son, Henry, who finds a way to wreck everything in his path.

Molly can’t find anything about her new circumstances to be excited about, until her Aunt Joan tells her about the wishing well at Molly’s grandparents’ farm. According to Aunt Joan, every wish she ever made there came true. And it just so happens that Molly and Henry will be staying at the farm for a week while their parents are on their honeymoon. Molly is convinced if she could just find that wishing well, she could wish for her mom to come back to life and everything will be okay again.

But Molly is in for a few surprises, and more that a few hard lessons about being careful what you wish for when the consequences of Molly’s selfish desires wreak havoc on her entire family. Can Molly make things right again through the wishing well? Or will she need to find it within herself to bring back the joy in her life that has been missing all this time?

My thoughts on the book: When I read the summary of this children’s book on NetGalley, I was very keen on delving into it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Although the book is very short (about 100 pages), it is filled with emotions and conveys a beautiful, profound message.

Through young Molly’s perspective, the author deals with the following themes — losing a parent at a young age, struggling with grief and anger, finding it hard to accept new family members (especially a new mother and a new young sibling).

The writing style is easily accessible for a young audience. I thought it was fast-paced and well written. It is both very descriptive and dynamic. You can easily follow Molly’s stream of thought, her frustration and her pain. I thought her difficult relationship with fidgety Henry was very interesting and evolving in a credible way.

The wishing well is a relevant symbol about hope. Can Molly finally find some closure and come to terms with her pain? Will she let people find their way to her grieving heart? I was afraid that given how short the book is, it would leave me wanting for more. But, the author managed to include all the necessary ingredients. It never feels rushed and there are no overlong passages. So, sometimes, shorter is better!

Molly Bell and the Wishing Well is a touching, moving tale about loss, family love and support, as well as new beginnings.

My Score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (= A must-read)

Annemarie Brear

Kitty McKenzie [Annemarie Brear]

223788391864 – Suddenly left as the head of the family, Kitty McKenzie must find her inner strength to keep her family together against the odds. Evicted from their resplendent home in the fashionable part of York after her parents’ deaths, Kitty must fight the legacy of bankruptcy and homelessness to secure a home for her and her siblings. Through sheer willpower and determination, she grabs opportunities with both hands from working on a clothes and rag stall in the market to creating a teashop for the wealthy. Her road to happiness is fraught with obstacles of hardship and despair, but she refuses to let her dream of a better life for her family die. She soon learns that love and loyalty brings its own reward.

My thoughts on the novel: If you enjoy reading Downton Abbey-inspired historical novels, Kitty McKenzie is a must-read. After the untimely death of their parents, the McKenzie siblings lose everything after learning their family is deep in debt. Snatched from their comfortable life as members of the upper class, Kitty and her brothers and sisters must fend for themselves and find themselves living in the squalid conditions of the 19th century working class. A reverse rag-to-riches kind of tale. Can they work their way back in the upper class?

Kitty is a strong-willed, endearing character who must now act as a mother and a big sister to her younger siblings after realising that none of their relatives or so-called friends will come to help them. Without references or specific skills, she has difficulty finding employment. Luckily, she’ll find an unexpected source of help and support from Connie and Max Spencer, a childless couple living upstairs from their cellar. As the McKenzie brood navigate their new, tough daily life, Kitty finds some hope for a better future when she meets Benjamin Kinglsey, an attractive young man, heir to a major York fortune. Kitty will have to face the wrath of her future mother-in-law who strongly disapproves of this union. With the help of Benjamin’s father and grandmother, Kitty may stand a chance to pull her family from misery and experience a true love story. To what lengths will she have to go to reach that goal?

I couldn’t put down this book. It’s a riveting and moving tale about family, friendship and love. The author created complex and touching characters who struggle with profound life changes. Fortunately, it’s a tale about hope and new beginnings that will leave the reader with a new appreciation of life and relatives.

After finishing the book which ends on an open conclusion, I was overjoyed to learn that the author wrote a sequel. I cannot wait to read it!

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (= a must-read)

Violet Howe

Diary of a Single Wedding Planner [Violet Howe]

25765182Wedding planner Tyler Warren left heartbreak behind when she ran away from her small Southern hometown and started a new life in a big city. Years later, she wants to believe in the fairy-tale endings her job promotes, but the clients she meets day after day seem to be more “Crazily Ever After” than “Happily Ever After.”

Meanwhile, her own attempts at romance play out as bizarre comedies rather than love stories, and she’s starting to think Prince Charming either fell off his horse or got eaten by a dragon. When unresolved issues from Tyler’s past complicate things even further, she discovers she may yet have some things to figure out before she can find her own happy ending.

My thoughts on the novel: When I picked up the book, I was attracted to the girly cover and the light subject matter which made me think of countless Hollywood movies about Bridezillas. I thought I would get a funny, witty, entertaining rom-com. In the end, I felt mostly frustrated and bored. Poor Tyler has to deal with brides and grooms who seem to be blatant clichés of the worst-case scenarios for any wedding planners (except for one or two exceptions). On the personal front, Tyler doesn’t fare better with a smothering, borderline hysterical mother who just never seems to stop ranting about how inconsiderate her daughter is. On top of that, Tyler finds herself dealing with her ex-boyfriend/love of her life (Dwayne) who is back in her life completely out of the blue, five years after cowardly dumping her to marry another one — almost right after their breakup, basically. A betrayal of great magnitude. I mean, there were just too many major caricatures to be a credible narrative.

BUT, not all the characters are caricatural. I must admit that Ty’s best-friend Cabe is an interesting protagonist with a credible personality. So, not all was bad.

The book is less than 300 pages and it felt like it took me forever to finish it. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading, especially the way Tyler deals with the pathetic ghost of boyfriend past. It was so frustrating to see her get sucked into a toxic relationship and actually allocate precious time to a guy who broke her heart in one of the cruellest ways. The author tries to sugar-coat in a “I-have-to-get-a-proper-closure” kind of way, but to me, it was just plain clichéd and hard to believe, especially the way Dwayne addresses Tyler: he sounds oh-so-very pathetic almost the entire time. I couldn’t understand why Tyler would put up with that; “for old time’s sake” has its limits.

Maybe the subject of wedding planners and bridezillas has just been receiving too much coverage in books and films, and now it all seems like déjà-vu?! Who knows, maybe. What I know is that I really hoped to have a good time enjoying a light story, but I ended up hating the way Tyler navigated the curveballs fate threw at her. She rarely could catch a break. Even the dates she goes on are mind-boggling (in a negative way).

To be fair, the final chapters were more to my liking. Tyler finally gets to tell Dwayne how she really feels and she gets her happy ending after all. Although it was predictable, it was nice to end on a positive note after everything else.

I’ll conclude by saying that even though the book definitely didn’t appeal to me for a wide variety of reasons, it seems that it gets some very good reviews. So, don’t just take my word for it, by all means.

Like the author mentions at the very end, there is no such thing as bad publicity. 😊

My score: ♥ (= Quite so-so)

Sandy Taylor

When we Danced at the End of the Pier [Sandy Taylor]

Brighton 1930: Maureen O’Connell is a carefree girl, but her family is on the brink of tragedy, war is looming and life will never be the same again.

Jack and Nelson have always been dear friends to Maureen. Despite their different backgrounds, they’ve seen each other through thick and thin.

As Maureen blossoms from a little girl into a young woman, the candle she’s always held for Jack burns bright. But just as she’s found love, war wrenches them apart. The man she cherishes with all her heart is leaving.

When the bombs start to fall, Maureen and her family find themselves living in the most dangerous of times. With Jack no longer by her side and Nelson at war, Maureen has never felt more alone. Can she look to a brighter future? And will she find the true happiness she’s dreamt of?

An utterly gripping and heart-wrenching story about the enduring power of love, hope and friendship during the darkest of days.

My thoughts on the novel: It was an absolute delight to read the novel When we danced at the end of the pier by Sandy Taylor. The story was deeply emotional and moving. As the reader, you see Maureen grow up at a time of great tragedy: the looming threat of a possible war and the actual horrors of the Second World War (deaths, bombing, evacuees), all in a poor section of Brighton called See Saw Lane.

Throughout their childhood, Maureen and her sister Brenda have had to deal with a “broken daddy” who seems to be wrestling with his own demons. It made them grow up faster, a matter that is obvious in Maureen’s narrative voice and strong personality. Apart from that, Maureen’s friends also have to deal with their share of family and personal drama, from poverty to abuse. She shares a very strong bond with her best friends, including Nelson, Monica and Jack! She will live an incredible love story, as well as an incredible loss that will move you to the core (courtesy of a great narrative and writing style from the author’s part).

All the characters are endearing and touching. The dramatic scenes are heart-wrenching, especially those dealing with bombings. The descriptions are incredibly vivid, which makes for a very realistic novel. You can almost feel and sense everything at the same time as Maureen. The author really managed to write a beautiful tale about family, true love and friendship. If you are a bit of a softie, expect a few tears rolling down your cheeks!

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Kerry Fisher

The Secrets of Second Wives [Kerry Fisher]

Two husbands. Two wives with a secret. One devastating betrayal.

Maggie loves her husband Nico. He’s caring and thoughtful but the shadow of his ‘perfect’ first wife Caitlin, constantly hangs over her. Then Maggie discovers that Caitlin has done something terrible, which if revealed could change Nico and Maggie’s lives forever …

Lara is married to Nico’s brother, Massimo. Their lives appear happy yet behind closed doors Lara has a secret that she can never tell. When she comes face to face with Massimo’s ex-wife, Lara is suddenly forced to confront her deepest fears about her life.

For a family held together by lies, the truth will come at a devastating price.

My thoughts on the novel: The Secrets of Second Wives turned out to be an incredible literary surprise. It is a gripping, emotional novel about how complicated it can be to navigate married life as a second wife. Forget the fairy tale and the happily ever after. This book is a page-turner with a worst-case scenario but a satisfying ending.

Through the prism of Maggie’s and Lara’s own perspectives, the reader has access to their deeper, inner thoughts, and the alternation of discourse offers a different angle on the events they experience and sometimes share. Following their streams of thought, you can really understand how they wound up where they are, why they react the way they do and how it all unfolded to reach this particular point in their lives. You can really connect with these two women.

The novel is somehow reminiscent of the Desperate Housewives storyline. Not only do they all live on the same street, but keeping appearances is also important in this posh family. Whilst reading, I often had the impression of hearing Marie Alice as the voice-over. You are really looking forward to seeing how the deeply buried family secrets will finally blow up in their faces! And the ending does not disappoint.

As a woman, you cannot but feel sorry for both characters who have to endure quite a tedious daily life — Maggie is struggling with a rude teenage stepdaughter who lost her mother but she also has to live in the shadow of the presumably perfect dead first wife. Lara is dealing with her bully of a husband, Massimo, who clearly has a severe narcissistic personality disorder. Both have married into a rich family of Italian origins, so you also have to count on a mother-in-law (Anna) who truly embodies your worst nightmare. She’s half harpy, half dragon! As a reader, I found myself deeply rooting for Lara to finally speak up her mind and free herself (and her son) from this hell she ended up living in. I really enjoyed the character of Beryl, Maggie’s mother. She’s not afraid to say things as they are. It was refreshing and exhilarating to see how she would put Anna in her place.

The novel is beautifully written with a complex, yet easy to read prose. It’s an emotional read on interesting topics — the power dynamics in couples, the sacrifices women make for their families, the flawed nature of human beings.

I’m sure Lara is a character that will speak to a lot of women who also had to give up their careers to raise their families (voluntarily or not quite). But, on top of that, seeing that she’s financially and emotionally trapped gave a very gripping dimension to the intrigue. The novel conveys a strong message about female empowerment and mutual respect.

I strongly recommend The Secrets of Second Wives, a well written novel about family, personal choices and life struggles.

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥