Book Review: Falling Short.

fallingshortThe cover caught my attention and the blurb lured me in but it was the quality of the writing that gripped me to the end.

Lex Coulton has been described as a “true new talent” and, after reading her debut, Falling Short, I think that quote is spot on.

Even in the first few pages the book felt markedly different – in a good way.

There are two central characters, Frances and Jackson, who both have strong and believable voices.

Parts of their story made my heart actually hurt while others made me laugh out loud but afterwards I realised the strangest thing…I wasn’t sure if I really liked either of them.

Here’s the blurb:

School-teacher Frances Pilgrim’s father vanished when she was five, and since then other things have been going missing too: car-keys, promotions, an endless roster of unsuitable boyfriends . . . And now here she is, thirty-bloody-nine and still losing things. 

Frances needs someone to talk to. Ideally to Jackson: fellow teacher, dedicated hedonist, erstwhile best friend. Only they haven’t spoken since that night last summer where they had too many glasses of Merlot (oh, large, please . . .) and things got complicated.

But now she has a much more pressing problem. Her mother Mary, whose odd behaviour Frances has long put down to eccentricity, is slowly yielding to Alzheimer’s, leaving Frances with some disturbing questions about her father’s disappearance, and the family history she’s always believed in.

As the new school year begins, and Mary’s behaviour becomes more and more erratic, Frances realises that she might just have a chance to find something for once. But will it be what she’s looking for?

Maybe not ‘liking’ them is the wrong way to describe it, it was more that there were elements of their characters I found frustrating, intriguing and confusing – just like in real life, I suppose.

People are complicated and I think part of Lex’s talent is writing characters who don’t feel like characters. Both Frances and Jackson felt like real people, people who don’t follow a linear path, who make mistakes, who live lives that ‘fall short’ and perhaps do things differently to how I would.

It didn’t detract from how well the story read, if anything it made it more interesting. I will say that by the end I was willing for good things to happen to poor Frances (I won’t spoil it by saying more).

Maybe it won’t be for everyone but I found her writing exciting and I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £4.99 (on Amazon).

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to John Murray (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.

I was lucky enough to interview Lex ahead of publication for my Behind The Book series. You can read it here.

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Book Review: The Deserter’s Daughter.

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When the paperback version of Susanna Bavin’s debut, The Deserter’s Daughter, arrived in the post I Tweeted this photo with the caption: “That’s my weekend reading sorted.”

In reality, I turned the first page on Friday night and the next thing I knew it was 24 hours later and I was breathing a happy sigh as I closed the book. It is THAT GOOD.

I’m sure I didn’t sit reading the whole time – there is a four-year-old in the house, after all – but Mark did comment, ‘Is that book attached to your hand?’.

I wanted it to be. I fell asleep (way after my bedtime) worrying about the lead character, Carrie, and I woke up desperate to see where the story would lead her. Where it would lead all of them, really.

Here’s the blurb:

1920, Chorlton, Manchester. As her wedding day draws near, Carrie Jenkins is trying on her dress and eagerly anticipating becoming Mrs Billy Shipton. But all too soon she is reeling from the news that her beloved father was shot for desertion during the Great War. When Carrie is jilted and the close-knit community turns its back on her as well as her mother and her half-sister, Evadne, the plans Carrie nurtured are in disarray

Desperate to overcome private shock and public humiliation, and with her mother also gravely ill, Carrie accepts the unsettling advances of well-to-do furniture dealer Ralph Armstrong. Through Ralph, Evadne meets the aristocratic Alex Larter, who seems to be the answer to her matrimonial ambitions as well. But both sisters put their faith in men who are not to be trusted, and they will face danger and heartache before they can find the happiness they deserve.

I’m going to let you into a secret, I was really worried about reading this book. Usually I am open to new genres but family saga is one that I thought wouldn’t float my boat. Not only that, I have got to know and like Susanna over the last year or so – since she appeared in my second Behind The Book post – and I really wanted to love her book. (Not that I think she would have cast me aside if it wasn’t my cup of tea).

I feel a bit daft now that it took me so long to read it (the hardback came out in June last year).

If Susanna’s book is an accurate representation of the family saga then sign me up. She has created nuanced, believable characters, who I was invested in from the start, along with an absorbing and colourful narrative – all elements I enjoy in contemporary books.

And, far from distracting from the story, the historical aspect only added to it. She writes with honesty and sensitivity about what it must have been like to be a deserter’s daughter. I felt the shame of the family as sure as if they were my relations.

This is an accomplished book and an incredible debut. I can’t wait for her next one, which I will definitely be reading as soon as possible.

Format: Paperback.

Price: £8.99 (via Amazon).

My rating: Five stars.

With thanks to Susanna and her publishers, Allison & Busby, for the paperback in return for an honest review.

My Holiday Reading – Maddie Please, Phillipa Ashley and Holly Martin.

holidayreading

There was a time when the majority of my holidays were spent sitting by the pool or on the beach (under an umbrella in as much shade as possible) with a lovely pile of books to read.

These days there’s not much sitting around to be done, thanks to Freya’s endless energy but during our recent caravan holiday she was wiped out and in bed by 7.30pm every night – and with no wifi to distract me it meant hours and hours of uninterrupted reading time. Bliss!

Here are the three books that kept me occupied.

Book One – A Year Of New Adventures by Maddie Please.

MaddieIt’s time for Billie Summers to have an adventure … but it might not be exactly what she expected.

Billie Summers has always been quite content in her little cottage in the Cotswolds. Sure, half the house hasn’t been renovated, but what’s the point when it’s only her? Working part-time at her uncle’s bookshop and planning writer retreats with her best friend allows her to pay the bills. What more could anyone want?

That is until Oliver Forest, the bad boy of the book world, turns up to one of her retreats and points out that Billie hasn’t done anything very adventurous. Couple that with her best friend falling head over heels and beginning to drift away from their Friday night wine and dinner plans, Billie is starting to wonder if it isn’t time she took control of her life.

So she starts a list: get fitted (properly) for a bra, fix up rest of house, find a ‘career’ and well, get a tattoo … Her life might just get the makeover it needs, too bad irritating and far-too-attractive for his own good, Oliver keeps showing up …

Because sometimes you need an adventure!

Confession time; I had absolutely planned to save this book for the holiday but I thought I’d have a sneak peek and, boom, a quarter of the book had gone by.

The subject matter definitely helped to pull me in (oh, how I long to go on a writing retreat) but Maddie’s characters are fantastically well written – and not just Billie and Oliver but the eclectic supporting cast too. If you’ve ever attended a creative writing course of any sort, you will recognise and enjoy some of the personalities.

While some of the situations are laugh out loud funny, there’s a lot of heart in this book too.

I’d say this was even better than Maddie’s debut, The Summer Of Second Chances, although I really enjoyed that too.

Book two – Spring On The Little Cornish Isles: The Flower Farm by Phillipa Ashley.

philippaJess has lived at the idyllic flower farm on the Isles of Scilly her whole life, but when her boyfriend Adam leaves without explanation, Jess discovers that even her little slice of Cornish heaven can be lonely.

For the first time in Will’s life, he’s met someone he can’t stop thinking about. But nothing is simple when the woman of your dreams is working for you.

Gaby is running away from painful memories, and where could be more perfect than a remote island off the Cornish coast? But to put the past behind her, she must keep moving … however much she might want to stay.

Nothing is simple, even on paradise. Will love bloom for the residents of the little Cornish Isles?

Knowing we were surrounded by fog (again), it was wonderful to snuggle under the lovely warm duvet with this book, which is the second in the series – and now a bestseller on Amazon.

Phillipa sets the story up perfectly from the start so you already know who you’re rooting for. It has just the right amount of highs and lows to make it the perfect holiday read. I had many guesses as to why Adam left Jess and the island but none of them were correct, which made it all the better.

The fact that it was partly set on a flower farm was a big lure for me – although it does show the realities of being waist deep in mud so is perhaps not quite as idyllic as I thought. Having said that, the setting, which is largely fictitious but based on the Isle of Scilly, had me, once again, wanting to pack up and move to a remote island.

I haven’t read the first book in the series but it has now been added to my TBR pile, especially having met Maisie in this book. I definitely want to read her story.

Book three – The Holiday Cottage By The Sea by Holly Martin.

hollyTori Graham is in need of a holiday. Trying to piece her heart back together after losing the love of her life, she escapes to Blossom Cottage, with its picturesque views of the sea. And plans to spend the summer in gorgeous Sandcastle Bay, where her best friend Melody Rosewood lives.

Tori’s not expecting her summer by the beach to be eventful, until she meets handsome and mysterious Aidan Jackson…

Aidan looks after the holiday cottage Tori is staying in. Healing from past hurts, he wants to avoid any further chance of heartache. But could this newcomer be the breath of fresh air he needs?

Finding herself embracing life in the coastal community, Tori starts to fall in love with Sandcastle Bay and its welcoming cast of residents. But that’s not all she begins to fall for, as Tori is swept away by Aidan’s genuine heart and mischievous sense of humour. The attraction between them is undeniable, but will a simple holiday romance be enough?

As Tori’s stay in Sandcastle Bay comes to an end she has a tough decision to make…. Has her heart found a new place to call home?

I’m a huge Holly Martin fan and I can’t tell you how thrilled I was that her latest book came out on April 12th while we were still away. I left Freya in the caravan with my parents just after lunch, nipped to the bar (where the wifi was) and downloaded the pre-ordered book while enjoying a hot chocolate (shh don’t tell them that bit).

It was very hard to wait until the evening to begin reading – and even harder to put it down and eventually go to sleep (that was a late night).

The chemistry between Tori and Aidan is almost palpable, right from the start. Their developing relationship makes for a lovely read – and provided some truly funny moments, as well as some really emotional ones. I also loved the other motley crew of characters in this book and the beautiful setting. The way Holly weaves in details about village traditions is wonderful and I felt a real sense of community (even though it’s made up!).

The only downside is that I have to wait until June for the next book in the series.

Do you save books for holiday? How many do you normally take away with you?