Book Review: Then. Now. Always.

thennowalwaysI couldn’t wait to get my hands on Isabelle Broom’s latest book but, at the same time, I was nervous.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think Then. Now. Always. would be good, I knew it would be, but I loved her last book so, SO much and I knew it would obviously be different.

Thankfully it’s a good different. A brilliant different, even. With just enough of the things I loved about A Year And A Day – things that now seem to be inherent to the way she writes – repeated that my nerves soon settled and enjoyment took over.

Here’s the blurb:

I hope you’re ready for an adventure. Twenty-eight year old Hannah certainly is.

She and her colleagues are in Spain for a month to film a documentary, and it’s a dream come true. Not least because Hannah will get to spend long summer days with Theo, her boss (and crush).

If only Tom (Hannah’s best friend and cameramen) and Claudette (the presenter) would stop getting in the way… Then things become even more complicated when Nancy, Hannah’s half-sister arrives. What is she doing here? For once in her life, can’t Hannah just have one perfect summer, free of any drama?

Reading one of Isabelle’s books is like opening the door to some new friends. Her characters are so well developed that they seem like real people rather than ones she has conjured from her imagination. She seems to understand the complexities of human emotion and be able to transfer that so eloquently to the page.

One of the things I really enjoyed about her last book was the way the setting, the historic and beautiful city of Prague, almost became another character. This time, Isabelle gives the same treatment to the mountain village of Mojacar, in southern Spain, making it come to life so that I immediately wanted to book a holiday there and maybe get a tattoo too (read the book and you’ll see why).

There is a happy ending but it’s not the perfect, all ends neatly tied one you so often find – and it’s all the better for it.

 Format: Kindle.

 Price: £4.99.

 My rating: Five stars.

Thank you to Penguin (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.

Book Review: Spring At Blueberry Bay.

blueberryWhen one of my favourite authors starts a new series I always do a little happy dance – and some shapes were definitely being thrown (people still do that, right?) when Holly Martin announced her latest book.

Spring At Blueberry Bay wastes no time in getting into the story. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the main characters, Bella and Isaac, and I really loved the unique way they met.

With her usual skill, Holly creates believable, likeable characters and a plot that is gripping from the beginning – I couldn’t wait to see how this heartwarming tale panned out.

Here’s the blurb:

Bella has always had a sunny outlook and caring nature, despite recently falling on hard times. When she finds a handsome homeless man on her doorstep, her kind heart tells her she must help him. So, she invites Isaac into her cottage and into her life in ways she could never have imagined…

But Isaac is not what he seems. He’s keeping a huge secret from Bella, yet he never expected to fall for this open, generous and charming woman.

Bella can’t ignore the chemistry between her and Isaac, but she’s had her trust badly broken in her past. Will she run when she learns the truth about Isaac, or will he be the one man who can help Bella believe in love again?

While Bella seems like an open book at first, it becomes clear that there is much more to her than meets the eye and discovering what makes her tick creates some really emotional scenes (tissues at the ready).

Isaac is a perfect hero; handsome, sexy, generous and romantic but with his own flaws, meaning you can still relate to him (and I really related to him).

As always there is an excellent supporting cast, including Bella’s cousins, Eden and Rome, although they are more like her brother and sister, who I really hope are the subjects of future books.

Spring At Blueberry Bay has got the series off to a fabulous start – roll on the next one.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99.

My rating: Four and a half stars.

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

Book Review: A Life Discarded.

cover106119-mediumFinding one diary discarded in a skip would be a dream come true for me – let alone 148 of them.

However, as biographer Alexander Masters discovers, working out what to do with them next is no easy matter.

I quite often find myself on eBay wondering whether bidding on tatty journals written in scrawling, often-illegible handwriting by people unknown is a good use of my limited funds.

I’ve never “won” one (yet). It seems a lot of other people are willing to pay far more than I have available for the honour of owning a little slice of someone else’s life.

I’m not sure what it is I think I’m going to find within their pages.

Maybe it’s because I wrote a journal consistently from the age of 18 until I was about 26 and then sporadically afterwards.

Perhaps there is an affinity with people who put pen to paper (so rare these days) to record their thoughts.

Or maybe I’m just nosy?

I know, though, that if I had found “148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks” lying among “broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge” I would have felt like I’d hit the jackpot.

They were initially discovered by two of his friends. Unsure what to do with them, they handed the three boxes of books over to Masters, the award-winning author of Stuart: A Life Backwards and Simon: The Genius In My Basement, with the idea that he could write about them.

The anonymous diaries begin in 1952 and end half a century later, which, as we learn, is a few weeks before they were thrown out.

When I heard about this book, I was incredibly excited and thrilled to get my hands on it.

I’ll admit to daydreaming about where I would start if they had suddenly fallen into my lap – and I think that’s where I went wrong.

Here’s the synopsis.

A Life Discarded is a biographical detective story. In 2001, 148 tattered and mould-covered notebooks were discovered lying among broken bricks in a skip on a building site in Cambridge.

Tens of thousands of pages were filled to the edges with urgent handwriting. They were a small part of an intimate, anonymous diary, starting in 1952 and ending half a century later, a few weeks before the books were thrown out.

Over five years, the award-winning biographer Alexander Masters uncovers the identity and real history of their author, with an astounding final revelation.

A Life Discarded is a true, shocking, poignant, often hilarious story of an ordinary life.

The author of the diaries, known only as ‘I’, is the tragicomic patron saint of everyone who feels their life should have been more successful.

Part thrilling detective story, part love story, part social history, A Life Discarded is also an account of two writers’ obsessions: of ‘I’s need to record every second of life and of Masters’ pursuit of this mysterious yet universal diarist.

My first instinct would be to discover who they belong to but, for Masters, it almost felt as if finding the identity of ‘I’ would somehow ruin it for him.

The book follows his rather twisty-turny route towards that conclusion, including consulting a private detective and a graphologist – which, though interesting, felt like padding to me.

There are excerpts from the diaries (and Masters’ attempts to make sense of them and his own life) together with drawings and photographs.

By all accounts, ‘I’ lives what I would consider a normal life, never fully realising the potential they clearly see in themselves, which makes the diaries all the more fascinating.

Intertwined with the main story are other threads about his two friends, which, though poignant, again feel like they take the focus away from the diaries.

I’m not saying the book isn’t a good read, it is.

Chapters often end with the punch of a new discovery (I’m not going to give any away), which makes it impossible to put down.

From my point of view, I just found it a bit frustrating.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £5.49.

My rating: Three and a half stars.

With thanks for Fourth Estate (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.