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! 🙂

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)

 

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)

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)

See You in the Cosmos [Jack Cheng]

An astonishingly moving middle-grade debut about a space-obsessed boy’s quest for family and home.

All eleven-year old Alex wants is to launch his iPod into space. With a series of audio recordings, he will show other lifeforms out in the cosmos what life on Earth, his Earth, is really like. But for a boy with a long-dead dad, a troubled mum, and a mostly-not-around brother, Alex struggles with the big questions.But for a boy with a long-dead dad, a troubled mum, and a mostly-not-around brother, Alex struggles with the big questions.

Where do I come from? Who’s out there? And, above all, How can I be brave?

Determined to find the answers, Alex sets out on a remarkable road trip that will turn his whole world upside down . . .

For fans of Wonder and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jack Cheng’s debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time.

My thoughts on the novel: What a lovely surprise! See You in the Cosmos is an entertaining, touching tale about a young boy passionate about space and alien lifeforms and who embarks on a riveting journey through America.

I thought the author really managed to capture and recreate this very particular stream of thought youngsters have. You get a narration made up of long sentences reflecting the incredible amount of ideas that go through the mind of Alex.

I was not only moved by his perspective of the world, but also very amused by his candor and funny interpretations of things he hears and sees, especially when faced with young adult problems. He tries to make sense of everything and everyone surrounding him.

He’s a very smart, mature eleven-year-old who has to deal with a broken family — a strong character who helps make this story a beautiful tale with a strong message about love, family, friendship and chasing after your dreams.

I highly recommend this novel to the young public who can easily identify with Alex, but also to teenagers and adults who will definitely get something out it too.

My score: ♥ ♥ ♥

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: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Midnight & Mistletoe at Cedarwood Lodge [Rebecca Raisin]

Planning a New Year’s Eve Party might be the kind of event Clio Winters used to dream about organising, but when everything is feeling a bit up in the air, she has to hope that this New Year, her wish really will come true.

My thoughts on the novel: Just 100 pages long, Midnight & Mistletoe is one of three books in the Cedarwood Lodge series by author Rebecca Raisin. I haven’t read the two previous installments entitled “Brides & Bouquets” and “Celebrations & Confetti”, and maybe at the beginning I sometimes felt as though I was missing some background info for the main characters. But, in the end, I really enjoyed this festive, New Year’s Eve-themed novel and felt like it can be read without knowing a lot about the previous episodes. It also made me want to read these two first novels.

Despite a couple of minor typos here and there, it is a really lovely, easy to read book I recommend to chick-lit lovers. It is a romantic and heartwarming tale about love, family, friendship and forgiveness (and true love!)

It’s a great read just a few days before ringing in 2017!

Score: ♥ ♥ ♥