Books

The Last Piece of My Heart by Paige Toon

The Last Piece of My Heart Paige ToonThe Last Piece of my Heart is the latest novel by Paige Toon, bestselling author of The One We Fell in Love With and Baby Be Mine.

It tells the story of Bridget, a travel journalist who dreams of being an author. To up her profile and get a foot in the publishing door, she starts a relationship blog about reclaiming the missing pieces of her heart, in the hope that with a fully restored heart, she can fully commit to her long-distance boyfriend and secure that elusive book deal at the same time.

Bridget plans to visit each ex love and ask for a piece of her heart back. Consequently, I thought that was going to be the story – Bridget pieces her heart back together as she reconciles each past relationship. However, her journey takes a slightly different path, by way of Cornwall.

When she is offered the chance to ghost-write the sequel to a best-selling novel by Nicole Dupré, Bridget reluctantly accepts. Nicole died suddenly after the release of her first novel, leaving her literary fans wanting more, and a heart-broken husband and baby daughter behind. Bridget relocates to Padstow for the summer, so she can research Nicole’s ideas for the unfinished second novel, while working under the watchful eye of Nicole’s grieving husband Charlie.

Paige Toon is a master of wise and witty literature and The Last Piece of My Heart might just be her best yet. It’s both humorous and honest, exploring meaningful themes of broken relationships, grief, maternity and morality. Life is a puzzle, and an incomplete one at that. Bridget’s journey is very relatable – often what we think we want isn’t actually the thing completes us.

Bridget is immediately likeable – strong, spirited and fun. Initially, I did question why anyone in their right mind would want to meet up with all of their exs, but as mentioned, this wasn’t the heart of the story and only touched on intermittently. It’s clear that once in Cornwall, Bridget’s priorities change.

Her developing friendship with Charlie and baby April is heart-warming, and while we’re on the subject of Charlie – WHERE CAN I FIND ONE LIKE HIM PLEASE?! (minus the sad widower thing, perhaps). Bridget brings fun and light back into Charlie and April’s life and its pure joy to read.

An additional joy was the great sense of location given, capturing the beauty of both Cornwall and Thailand.

Beautifully written, heart-felt and witty, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and couldn’t put the book down. In fact, I pretty much cried from page 313 onwards and had to recover with a strong cup of tea and several biscuits. A must read!

Clare

Published on 18 May 2017

Massive thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Books

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time Matt HaigHow to Stop Time is the latest novel from Matt Haig, bestselling author of Humans and The Boy Who Saved Christmas.

‘I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.’

It tells the story of Tom Hazard, whose life is the very opposite of the saying, ‘we’re here for a good time, not a long time’. Tom has been around for a long time, centuries in fact, and mostly, he hasn’t had a very good time. A rare condition means Tom ages dramatically slower than most humans, which isn’t as great as it initially sounds. For him, time is not a gift, it’s a dangerous burden.

From playing the lute for Shakespeare to setting sail on the high seas with Captain Cook, Tom has lived a million lives in his lifetime. Controlled by a secret, sinister society which claims to protect those with the condition, Tom is given a new identity and made to start a new life every eight years in order avoid suspicion.

Falling in love can be a risky business, but in Tom’s case, it can be fatal. Warned by the society not to disclose his secret and still heartbroken from death of the love of his life 400 years ago, Tom is unable to get close to anyone, and is lonely and deeply unhappy. It is only his determination to find his daughter, who he was separated from centuries ago, which keeps him going.

In his latest guise, Tom has become history teacher in a London secondary school, where he meets Camille, a free spirit who slowly encourages him not to fear the future.

A real masterpiece from Haig, How to Stop Time is funny and thought-provoking. It is a captivating cocktail of history, science and the supernatural, exploring the complex nature of humans. Haig’s characters and settings are beautifully defined and his insight into human emotion is heart-rending.

It explores themes of loss, love and pain, highlighting how, as humans, we torture ourselves with the past, letting it define our future. Haig’s message is clear – letting go can set you free.

So good is the premise that the film rights have been snapped up by Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company, with the Sherlock actor set to star in the film adaptation.

How to Save Time is one of those stories that stays with you long after you have finished reading. Deeply moving, witty and utterly compelling – a must-read.

Clare

Review copy supplied by Netgalley

Published on: 6 July 2017

Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd

Books

Girl 99 by Andy Jones

Girl 99 is the new novel by Andy Jones, best-selling author of The Two of Us and The Trouble with Henry and Zoe.

51jezmyssml-_sx331_bo1204203200_1After a messy break up with his girlfriend Sadie on Christmas Eve, Tom realises that she wasn’t The One, she was just The One For Now. She was also, he realises, after listing all of his previous relationship/flings/liaisons – girl number 85.

When his best friend El challenges him to bring things to a nice round number and sleep with a 100 women by a certain date, Tom reluctantly agrees – mainly to get El off his back, but also because, well he’s a man and clearly a little slutty. Without really putting much effort into his mission, he ends up sleeping with a colleague, a friend of a friend, a stranger he meets on the tube, the estate agent selling his flat and more besides. Each encounter is meaningless, messy and awkward, and leaves Tom feeling empty and alone. He then meets Verity, who is more than just a number, and is forced to face up to his self-destructive behaviour.

Girl 99 is a perfectly observed tale of relationships in all their guises, dealing with issues of love, loss, morality and degenerative illness. Andy Jones is really good at creating realism, in both his characters and their experiences, while serving it all up with a razor-sharp dose of smart wit.

Tom is an all-round nice guy. He’s popular, has a good career and is touchingly protective over his dad and younger sister following the death of his mother a few years previous, but he is essentially lonely – often, the highlight of his day is drinking tea with his elderly neighbour Doug. He also has commitment issues and a slight tendency to over-analyse. You could almost take a dislike to him and his promiscuous ways, and his selfish disregard for women’s feelings, but deep down Tom is unfulfilled and lost.

I hate to use the ‘J’ word really, but Tom does go on a bit of a ‘journey’ of self-discovery. Relationships are complicated, whether friendship, relationship or relative and mistakes are often made along the way – Tom makes many (like breaking up with a girl over email – really Tom?!). It makes for a charmingly life-affirming and relatable tale.Thoroughly enjoyable.  

Clare

Published by Lake Union Publishing
Review copied supplied by Netgalley

Books

The Good Girlfriend’s Guide To Getting Even by Anna Bell

512vkrgbwbl-_sy346_1It’s true what they say; revenge really is a dish best served cold. When Lexi discovers her sports-mad boyfriend Will pretended to have food poisoning so he could miss her friend’s wedding and secretly go to a football match instead, she’s mad – really mad.

However Lexi then realises a good girlfriend doesn’t get mad, she gets even. Rather than confronting Will, she carries out acts of revenge, which include ‘lost’ tickets, a Sky box ‘accidently’ soaked in wine and a dead car battery – causing him to miss out on his precious fixtures.

While friends have got married and settled down, Lexi and Will, who have been together for seven years, find themselves stuck in a comfortable domestic no man’s land with no sign of an engagement ring, much to her mother’s disappointment. After her discovery of Will’s lie, Lexi is forced to re-evaluate her relationship, and realises that whether its football or Formula 1, she feels like she always takes second place to sport. Lexi uses her ‘getting even’ scheme to reinvigorate their relationship, but starts to wonder if she is flogging something well past its sell by date.

The genius of The Good Girlfriend’s Guide To Getting Even is that it is so relatable, whether you are a cricket/golf/tiddly winks widow or not. At some point we have all been in that relationship which feels a bit stale and neglected.

As the lead character, Lexi is likeable and again, really relatable. The exchanges between Lexi and her sex-mad best friend Cara are hilarious, awkward mealtimes with her parents are cringe-worthy and the connection between Lexi and her handsome work colleague Robin is intriguing – although he probably does the biggest 180 degree character change ever!

It is a charming novel, full of warmth and wit. Anna Bell’s writing style is snappy, conversational and really funny. Yes, some of the scenarios are a little far-fetched and I was amazed Will doesn’t twig what his girlfriend is up to sooner, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable, feel-good read.

Clare 

Review copy supplied by NetGalley

Published by Zaffre

Ebook available from Amazon

Books

Book Review: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

51e3y0cfeylFrom the creator of the popular ITV drama starring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell, Victoria is a standalone novel by Daisy Goodwin.

It’s June 1837, and following the death of her uncle William IV, 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria has become Queen of England. Up until now, her existence has been privileged but extremely sheltered – her dolls are her only friends. Desperate to escape the controlling clutches of her mother and calculating Sir John Conway, she is determined to rule alone, however the crown is literally and metaphorically a heavy burden and her naivety and immaturity is evident.

“They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.”

Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. “They are mistaken. I have not known you long, but I observe in you a natural dignity that cannot be learnt. To me, ma’am, you are every inch a Queen.”

With many plotting her downfall, Prime Minister Lord Melbourne becomes Victoria’s most trusted supporter. Although old enough to be her father, she turns to him for advice, comfort and friendship, believing this is the only relationship she needs. As with all monarchs, the pressure to marry and secure an heir mounts, and her first cousin Albert is reluctantly pushed forward as a suitable candidate. However, Victoria is determined not to marry for convenience or let go of her beloved Lord M.

Having watched and loved the television series, to be honest I did wonder if it was necessary to read the novel. However, it is a must read – an engaging accompaniment to the programme, rich in historical detail which delves deeper into each fascinating character.

Daisy Goodwin’s young Victoria is immediately likeable – brave, strong-minded and expressive. Despite her naïve mistakes and initial giddiness, with the help of Lord M and then with Albert, she matures into a strong and resilient monarch and you root for her all the way through.

The relationship between Victoria and Lord Melbourne is captivating, and while a marriage would have been impossible, I was almost wishing history could have been re-written so that their relationship could be explored. Lord M himself shows great restraint over his feelings for Victoria and his commitment to the crown. The internal struggle between his feelings and his duties is played out in more detail in the novel, as is his jealously over the blossoming relationship between Victoria and Albert.

Victoria and Albert’s initially awkward relationship is charming and moving. With Albert, Victoria truly meets her match and their historically famous love story is brought to life with great passion and realism.

The book ends just as a new chapter of Queen Victoria’s life is about to begin, which paves the way perfectly for a sequel. Daisy Goodwin is currently writing the second series of the TV drama, so a second novel is bound to follow. Victoria is a historical delight.

Clare x

Review copy supply by NetGalley
Published by Headline Publishing Group

Books

Review: All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

51pqr9jhsxl-_sx326_bo1204203200_All I Ever Wanted is the latest novel by Lucy Dillon, author of One Small Act of Kindness and A Hundred Pieces of Me.

When Caitlin’s marriage breaks down, she desperately tries to keep things normal for her two young children. With her life in chaos and her confidence at rock bottom, things couldn’t really get much worse. That is, until her lively, four-year-old chatterbox Nancy worryingly stops talking.

Caitlin and her husband Patrick struggle to keep things amicable, especially when his new job, the final nail in their relationship coffin, takes him miles away from his family. Patrick calls upon his aloof sister Eva to act as a half way access point so he can see the children every fortnight.

Recently widowed, Eva is lonely and grieving – both her beloved husband and a life she feels she has missed out on. Her quiet solitude is disturbed by the arrival of her niece and nephew, and she slowly begins to open her heart again.

Sometimes things happen that make you realise what you thought you wanted isn’t the case at all. Caitlin and Eva are forced to confront the issues in both of their marriages, decide what they really want their lives to look like and search for their happy ending.

All I Ever Wanted is a charming, bittersweet tale, told with compassion by Lucy Dillon. The characters are likeable and well rounded, and you can’t help but care about what happens to them. The situations they find themselves in and their reactions to them – a relationship breakdown, bereavement, a childless future, are touching and totally relatable.

Although it deals with issues of heartbreak, grief, guilt and stress, at its heart, the story is uplifting and life affirming and well worth a read.

Clare

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Proof copy supplied by NetGalley

Books

Review: Holding by Graham Norton

Holding Graham NortonHolding is the fictional début by Irish chat show king, radio presenter and comedian Graham Norton. Set in the sleepy Irish village of Duneen, it tells the story of a small community with big secrets.

Not much happens in Duneen. That is, until human bones are discovered on a building site. The shocking discovery rocks the village, and secrets of the past, that many of the inhabitants thought were well buried, are slowly unearthed.

For overweight and lonely Sergeant Patrick James ‘PJ’ Collins, there is finally a crime to solve. His time is usually spent organising parking during the church fête, but now with a murder investigation on his hands,  he at last feels he has a purpose.

PJ is one of half a dozen characters who share the story spotlight. These include the mysterious Ross sisters – three spinsters who live together in their childhood home, haunted by the suicide of their father, and housewife Brid Riordan, who relies on alcohol to numb the pain of a mundane and unhappy life. At times its seems like there are too many characters and back stories to keep up with, however, Norton has created well-rounded, relatable characters, who despite their obvious flaws, you can’t help but have sympathy with.

She felt a strange pressure building behind her face. No. She would not cry. She might have carried the pain for twenty-three years, but she would not release it now. Her face contorted into a thin smile.”

As happens in a small community, rumours soon start swirling and many believe that the body is that of Tommy Burke, a local lad who disappeared 20 years earlier. Sergeant PJ has his work cut out, as suddenly everyone has something to hide.

Holding is a tale of love, loss, mystery and regret. Norton is a great storyteller. Known on television and radio for his cheeky, sarcastic humour, you are almost waiting for the gag to come, however, his writing takes a gentler tone. While the murder case drives the story forward, solving it is secondary to the moving journeys each of the main characters go on. There are touches of dark humour and Irish wit, but overall this is an engaging novel cleverly exploring human emotion and reaction.

An enjoyable début by Mr Norton.

★ ★ ★ ★

Clare White

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, October 2016