The Proposal – Tasmina Perry

The Proposal

Publisher: Headline

From Amazon:

Just say yes to this unforgettable read and take a spellbinding, romantic journey from the dazzling days of the debutantes in 1950s London to glamorous modern Manhattan.

When Amy Carrell’s wealthy boyfriend ends their relationship just before Christmas, she’s left to nurse her broken heart alone. With nothing to lose, she replies to an advertisement requesting a companion for a mysterious ‘Manhattan adventure’.

Whisked off to New York with eccentric British aristocrat Georgia Hamilton, Amy experiences a glamorous side of the city that she’s never seen before. Along the way, Georgia initiates her protegee in the arts of old-school elegance.

But as Georgia shares her life lessons, Amy discovers a painful secret in her mentor’s past. A secret that shattered her future. A story of love and betrayal that only Amy has the power to put right.

My thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed reading Tasmina Perry’s previous books – despite being the size of door-stops they were glitzy and racy reads and an escape from normality although I have to admit that one or two of the later books haven’t always hit the mark for me. However, the latest offering, The Proposal, is a completely different type of read and I absolutely loved it.

26 year old American waitress/dancer, Amy Carrell, is expecting a proposal. She has spotted a Tiffany ring box in a drawer belonging to her high flying boyfriend Daniel and when he invites her to a posh pre-Christmas party, she is expecting a magical evening. However instead of a marriage proposal, she finds herself dumped, basically because Daniel and his parents do not consider her to be good enough.

When she subsequently answers an advertisement for a travelling companion for a trip to New York, it is merely a way for a cash-strapped Amy to be able to visit her family at Christmas whilst deciding what to do next. Little does she know how much of an impact on her life, her travelling companion, the elderly Georgia Hamilton, will have.

The story then slips back from 2012 to 1958 when we meet 18 year old Georgia Hamilton. Georgia having attending a Parisian finishing school, is fiercely independent with dreams of becoming a writer.  However her family have other ideas and she is being heavily encouraged by them to participate in ‘The Season’ – to come out as a debutante with the end result of finding herself a rich husband. What Georgia lacks in temperament and the correct family background, she makes up for with strength of character and spirit and you feel for her as she tries to fit in with her peers.

Georgia’s time as a debutante was one of my favourite parts of the book. The glamour, the parties, the excitement of romance and the competitiveness between the girls as to who would bag the most eligible young men was brilliantly executed and I felt as though I were a bystander watching this most English of traditions.

Both Georgia and Amy were wonderful characters. Georgia’s background meant that she was a very proud and genteel lady and her attempts to advise and educate Amy in how to dress and which cutlery to use were countered by Amy’s sense of fun whilst showing Georgia around New York. Despite their difference in ages and lifestyle, you could feel the genuine fondness that developed between the two women and although her successful career had made her a very rich woman, there is a great sadness in Georgia’s life, and one which Amy is determined to put right.

I’ve never been to New York but the excellent descriptions of Central Park in December, the cold, the glamorous cafe’s and the general hustle and bustle really made it come to life. (There is a very good brief guide at the back of the book, giving more details of some of the NY locations visited).

This could easily be a contender for my book of the year. I loved spending time with both Georgia and Amy and was quite sad to get to the end. There is everything in this book – fabulous locations, glamour, romance and betrayal and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My thanks to the Amazon Vine programme for the copy to review.

Author website: http://www.tasminaperry.com

I couldn’t finish this review without adding a picture of my own – and had to include the matching chocolate bar, courtesy of the publisher, Headline. 

Meet…… Jane Cable – author of The Cheesemaker’s House

I’m delighted to welcome my very first guest to ‘My Reading Corner’ – Jane Cable.

                                              Jane at Studland

Jane’s debut novel ‘The Cheesemaker’s House‘ was published in August 2013 and she has very kindly taken the time to answer a few of my questions.

You have created some very interesting characters in The Cheesemaker’s House. Do you ever base your characters on people you know?
 

Not generally, no. Alice, in particular is her own woman but I still hope she is recognisable to most of us.

Sometimes I borrow people’s physical characteristics though and one of those is Richard. And as when I wrote the book my expectations of publication were tiny I didn’t bother to change his name. The character is also just a little bit like the real Richard in that he’s a bit of a cheeky chancer too. My problem is that the real Richard and his wife are going away for Christmas and have bought copies of the book to read on holiday. I reckon he may not notice but I am sure as soon as his wife reads Alice’s initial description: “tall, dark and handsome with a couple of days of designer stubble and a gold hoop in his left ear” then I’m in trouble!

How long did it take you to write the book and did you plan the storyline in detail at the beginning or just run with it?

I started The Cheesemaker’s House in early 2009 and just ran with it. I know some authors plan a book but I have a rough idea and let the characters tell their own story as they develop. The plot did change quite dramatically as I went along and I re-wrote the ending several times before I was satisfied with it.

I also tend to write from the heart the first time then go back and edit later. I am completely untutored as a writer and some of the best advice I got was from Sophie Hannah who told me that I had a great deal of polishing to do before the book would be ready for publication. She was right and it was well worth all the hard work going over and over the manuscript to make sure it was as good as it possibly could be.


How did you come up with the design for the book cover?

My publisher, Matador, has to take a lot of the credit for this. I had a few ideas and I knew there were a handful of images which were important to the plot. The designers at Matador asked me which book covers I liked and the one which resonated with me most was Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboat – I thought the use of colour and of a single image were really striking.

The central image for The Cheesemaker’s House cover was originally the key and what it opened (don’t want to say too much here) but that just looked too clumsy so in the end I went for the key on its own.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading, and what are you reading now?

I have quite a broad taste in books but very little time to read. I find that when I’m writing I get so into the heads of my characters, getting into somebody else’s as well confuses me.

I like books where the central characters become friends and where the plot isn’t too obvious. Sometimes it will be a series – a favourite would be Mark Hebden’s Pel detective novels – or sometimes a singular stunner like The Time Traveler’s Wife. Because I’m editing at the moment I’m not reading anything but I’ve not long finished Lorna Fergusson’s The Chase and Daniel Clay’s Broken is next on my list. 

What do you do to relax?

I write! It’s what I love doing more than anything else and it’s a real luxury for me to be able to sit quietly in my study and create something new.

Other than that I’m a bit of a yoga nut and I love swimming, walking and bodyboarding (at the rare times conditions allow). I also have a really special group of friends and a wonderful husband so spending time when the people I love is very relaxing too.

Can you tell us a little about your next book?

It’s a romance-suspense with its roots in folklore, but not a ghost story. I hope readers won’t be disappointed with that but I had finished three drafts of it before The Cheesemaker’s House was published. I thought long and hard about whether it was right to want to publish it next but I still believe in the story so I’m going to follow my instincts. It has the working title of The Fairy Tree and is set around a real tree on the banks of the river Hamble which has its own special place in the community.

If I publish the book independently I hope it will be out in late 2014 but I might still have a go at trying to attract a mainstream publisher for it. If that happens then the timing will be out of my hands.

Thank you very much Jane. I really enjoyed reading The Cheesemaker’s House and look forward to your next book.

The Cheesemaker's House

Jane Cable’s novel won the Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition, reaching the last four out of over a thousand entries. The judges of this competition compared her work to that of Barbara Erskine, but it also resembles the more recent works of Alan Titchmarsh or Kate Mosse. 

Published 1 August 2013 by Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd

Website: http://janecable.com
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/JaneCable
The Cheesemaker’s House has its own Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cheesemakers-House/245534682166250?fref=ts

You can read my review here

Not Without You – Harriet Evans

Not Without You (paperback)

Publisher: HarperCollins

From Amazon:

If you don’t learn from history . . .
You’re destined to repeat it

Not without you, she’d said. And I’d let her down…

Hollywood, 1961: when beautiful, much-loved movie star Eve Noel vanishes at the height of her fame, no-one knows where, much less why.

Fifty years later, another young British actress, Sophie Leigh, lives in Eve’s house high in the Hollywood Hills. Eve Noel was her inspiration and Sophie, disenchanted with her life in LA, finds herself becoming increasingly obsessed with the mystery of her idol’s disappearance. And the more she finds out, the more she realises Eve’s life is linked with her own.

As Eve’s tragic past and the present start to collide, Sophie needs to unravel the truth to save them both – but is she already too late? Becoming increasingly entangled in Eve’s world, Sophie must decide whose life she is really living . . .

My thoughts:

“….Hollywood is about extremes, as someone once said. You’re either a success or a failure, there’s no in-between”.

In the 1950’s twenty year old Eve Noel goes England to California to seek fame and fortune.

In the current day, thirty year old Sophie Leigh has gone from England to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune.

– both women will find themselves sucked in and chewed up by the vicious film industry.

We first meet Eve, when she is 6 years old and playing with her older sister Rose in their English garden but then Rose accidentally drowns and Eve’s life will never be the same again. It is then the 1950’s and Eve is 20 years old when she makes her way to California to find stardom and fame and she really is an innocent abroad. In the days when young starlets were chaperoned to parties to meet the film producers who would decide their fate, the Hollywood machine wastes no time in getting its claws into people like Eve. Lecherous studio bosses and their spies do their very best to make young girls like Eve jump through hoops to keep their career not caring what the consequences may be.

Sophie Leigh (actually Sophie Sykes) is nearly 30. She too has gone from England to America to be a film star. We are now in the present day and really things don’t seem to have changed much. The studios don’t seem to have quite so much control over their star’s lives although they can still make and break careers with dirty tricks and the wrong word here and there.

Sophie has made her name playing ditzy characters in rom-coms. However, with her career on the downward slide, she now wants to do more than act in the third rate film scripts that come her way. She is also obsessed with the 1950’s actress Eve Noel, and even lives in Eve’s old Hollywood house. Sophie’s dream is to make a film about Eve’s life…and have Eve Noel appear in it. However no-one knows what has happened to Eve. In 1961, she suddenly disappeared and has never been heard of again.

This book turned out to be a much deeper and darker read than I was expecting. We see through Sophie’s eyes how fickle fame and fortune is and what happens when your fans…and indeed, people you thought were friends, turn against you. It seemed to me that a lot of research had gone into the book, especially in the lifestyle and practices of the moviemakers and the film studios of decades ago and this gave an extra element to the story.

The story travels back and forth from the US to the English countryside, and you get a real feeling for location. The characters are well written, some are likeable and others definitely not, however they each pull you in to the story. Sophie as the main character, was interesting enough to carry the story, however I found myself drawn to Eve and her life and for me she was the real star of the book.

There is a sub plot involving Sophie which led to a dramatic scene which I really was not expecting, and this change of tone makes the book different from previous books that I’ve read by Harriet Evans.

It’s difficult to say any more without giving the plot away but I really enjoyed this story and would recommend it if you’re looking for a read with a little more substance.

Finally, I just have to say that I adored the gorgeous cover of this book and whoever designed it should take a bow.

My thanks to the publisher Harper Collins for the copy to review.

Author Website: http://www.harriet-evans.com 

You can follow Harriet Evans on Twitter – @HarrietEvans

The Cheesemaker’s House – Jane Cable

The Cheesemaker's House

Publisher: Matador

From Goodreads:

Inspired by a framed will found in her dream Yorkshire house, which had been built at the request of the village cheesemaker in 1726, Jane Cable discovered the historical aspect of her novel. Set near Northallerton in North Yorkshire, The Cheesemaker’s House is a page-turner that will have readers hooked instantly.

The novel follows the life of Alice Hart, who escapes to the North Yorkshire countryside to recover after her husband runs off with his secretary. Battling with loneliness but trying to make the best of her new start, she soon meets her neighbours, including handsome builder Richard Wainwright and kind café owner Owen Maltby. As Alice employs Richard to start renovating the barn next to her house, all is not what it seems. Why does she start seeing Owen when he clearly isn’t there? Where – or when – does the strange crying come from? And if Owen is the village ‘charmer’, what exactly does that mean?

Cable’s characters are shrouded in mystery, particularly Owen, who had been in her head from the summer of 2008. Her father had an interest in folklore and she discovered ‘charmers’ in a book from his extensive library. Around the same time she created Alice through a short piece of fiction which became the original opening of the novel, and the rest of the story simply fell into place.

The Cheesemaker’s House won the Suspense & Crime category of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition, reaching the last four out of over a thousand entries.

My thoughts:


With so many reviews praising this book, and especially it being a competition winner, I had high expectations of this – and I’m so pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.

When newly divorced, 35 year old Alice Hart, moves into New Cottage in Northallerton with her spaniel William, to pick up the pieces of her life, she can have no idea of the dramatic events that will follow.

There are some wonderful characters here, all so expertly drawn against a backdrop of the Yorkshire countryside which is beautifully described and I was pulled into the story from the start. The enigmatic Owen Maltby, who along with Adam (the baker) is the co-owner of Café Bianco. Owen, whilst being a kind and caring character, has secrets of his own. The tall, dark and handsome (and doesn’t he know it!) builder, Richard Wainwright who is employed by Alice to renovate her barn has a cheeky manner but we later see a sensitive side too. Her elderly neighbour Margaret, who with her sensible advice becomes a good friend to Alice. Alice, who of course, is central to the story, was somebody that I could identify and engage with – she has doubts and insecurities but is also capable of surprising strength when needed.

When Alice is kept awake at night by the sound of crying together with visions of ghostly images, she decides to delve deeper into the history of New Cottage and its previous inhabitants and with the help of Margaret, unearths some deeply disturbing information. When Richard discovers something even more sinister, events are set in motion that will test Alice and Owen to the limit.

I love books that are mixture of genres and a little bit different and this one certainly doesn’t fit the usual format. Its part love story, part ghost story with an element of mystery and all three combinations made it a book that I couldn’t put down.

I would love to read more by this very talented author.

I couldn’t end this review without giving a mention to Adam and his delicious sounding cakes – this is the perfect read to accompany a hot chocolate and a large slice of something very calorific!

My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Troubador Publishing for the digital copy to review.

Author website: http://janecable.com

My Husband next door – Catherine Alliott

My Husband Next Door

Publisher: Penguin

From Goodreads:
 

When Ella married the handsome, celebrated artist Sebastian Montclair at just nineteen she was madly in love. Now, those blissful years of marriage have turned into the very definition of an unconventional set-up. Separated in every way but distance, Sebastian resides in an outhouse across the lawn from Ella’s ramshackle farmhouse.

With an ex-husband living under her nose and a home crowded by hostile teenaged children, gender-confused chickens – not to mention her hyper critical mother whose own marriage slips spectacularly off the rails – Ella finds comfort in the company of the very charming gardener, Ludo. But is he really the answer to her prayers?

Then out of the blue Sebastian decides he must move away, catching Ella horribly unawares. How much longer can she hide from what really destroyed her marriage . . . and the secret she continues to keep?

My thoughts:
 

Ella’s marriage to the celebrated artist Sebastian Montclair has not turned out to be the success she had hoped for. Now in her mid-thirties and with two lazy teenage children lolling about the house, her husband has moved out to live in an outhouse elsewhere on the farm, leaving Ella to look after the children, the holiday guests, the animals as well as doing his laundry. When her parents have marital difficulties too, and her mother decides to come and stay in one of the holiday lets on the farm, Ella’s life become even more chaotic and its only her growing friendship with handsome gardener Ludo (also married) that is her salvation.

By comparison, Ella’s bossy sister Ginnie seems to have a perfect life – she is a lady that lunches, she fills her time with charity committees and by all appearances seems to have the perfect children. Only appearances are never what they seem.

I was really looking forward to reading this as I had very much enjoyed Catherine Alliott’s previous book, A Rural Affair however I found this disappointing. It was an easy read but both characters and storyline were bland and forgettable. Ella seemed to be a pleasant enough ditzy character but I didn’t warm to her, I became irritated by her indecisiveness and dithering and thought some of the minor characters like Ottoline, Ella’s mother and even Sebastian were far more interesting and would have liked to have seen more of them in the book.

There were some amusing moments – most notably with the chickens. Monsieur Blanc and his little gang raised a smile but it’s quite sad really when chickens are more interesting than the main characters!

At nearly 500 pages I felt the book was a bit too long and Ella’s will she/won’t she friendship/affair with Ludo became repetitive. Even the reveal of the “secret” hinted at in the book description wasn’t enough to pick the story up for me. There were some insightful moments when I had a moment of sympathy for Ella, especially when she felt her family were excluding her from their decisions but sadly this book just didn’t hit the spot for me.

Although this was only a so/so book for me, I’m sure that many other people would enjoy it and I would still read other books by this author.

My thanks to Real Readers for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Author website: http://www.catherinealliott.com