Monday, 23 April 2018

The Spookshow (Book One) by Tim McGregor

This was a surprisingly enjoyable horror novel.  I was not anticipating enjoying it as much as I did so that is always a bonus for any book.  That said I am on the fence about purchasing further installments in the series as the characters were fine in isolation in one, rather slim volume; I feel that they could become tedious very, very quickly.

There is an attempt at romantic tension between our psychic heroine Billie and the police office Ray Mockler.  They clearly have a history and this left me wondering if I had inadvertently ended up a few tales in but this is labelled as Book One so I guess not.  Sadly the romance angle really doesn't work as it feels a little stalkerish on Billie's part and that made my skin prickle.

The horror, or occult as Mr McGregor, section is very well written.  With the discovery of a satanic "temple" in the basement of an abandoned house complete with corpse the tension really begins to ratchet up. This is especially true when the house's inhabitants start crowding in on Billie knowing that she can see and hear them.  The plot is fast paced but didn't feel rushed and I was actually rather glad that the author stuck to his guns and kept it the length it needed to be rather than trying to extrapolate another hundred pages from it.  Although it ends of a cliffhanger I don't feel compelled to read on, which is probably bad news for the author, as the tale felt complete enough for me to be happy to leave the characters at this juncture.

Enjoyable romp that has quasi-believable characters and enough scares to keep you interested.

Whisper Of The Moon Moth by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

I was a little hesitant reading this novel at first as a fictionalised reimagining of a real life feels so many shades of wrong.  However, I decided to give it a fair crack of the whip and decided to treat it as though the people within the covers had never really existed and it was all fiction.  This is surprisingly easy to do, especially if you know absolutely nothing about Merle Oberon.  To me she was merely a name from the end of the Golden Era in filmmaking and I'm not even sure that I have seen her in a film - I know her most famous film was perhaps Wuthering Heights but as I don't particularly like the novel I haven't been in any rush to see an adaptation of it.

The tale itself is gloriously wrought.  The early section, in India, where the young Estelle lives with her mataji, Charlotte, is particularly evocative.  You can feel the heat and smell the spice laden air wafting from the pages.  The character of Estelle is particularly empathetic and her naivety from her rather cloistered upbringing in the Anglo-Indian quarter is at eternal odds with both her ambition and her underlying sensuous nature.  Whether Merle Oberon was really like this I have no idea but I kind of hope she was; there is a feisty fearlessness to her that makes you immediately warm to her and accept her character flaws without them diminishing your affection for the character.

Whilst only just "pale enough to pass" this doesn't stop her from following her dreams and travelling to England with a letter of recommendation in her pocket and love in her heart.  Sadly the love was misplaced and the intended recipient of the letter away but by a string of fortuitous meetings she still manages to make the right connections by meeting with Sandor Korda who sees her potential and so a star is born.

I found this to be a real page turner and was quite sad when it finishes early in Merle's life after her marriage to Korda.  Whilst the events are fictionalised the inspiration behind the author's imaginings is explained in the Afterword and the known biography of Ms Oberon is synopsied there for the reader.  All of the characters in the book live and breathe and this isn't because there is a "name" attached to them; indeed many of them behave in ways that you wouldn't expect (although Vivien Leigh's overvaulting ambition and spite are well recorded) and feel all the more real for it.

If you can seperate the real person from the fictional account then you will enjoy this novel.  The settings, both glamorous and mundane, are richly evoked and the populace of the pages live and breathe on their own.  There are some twists and turns in the plot that you genuinely don't see coming but when all mixed together they just make it feel like a genuine life.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Up, Back & Away by K. Velk

I have to admit I dickered about purchasing this book but the numerous 4 and 5 star reviews made my mind up for me.  I really wish that I had let my indecision take centre stage and not purchased it.  I am never knowingly defeated by a book but I came really close to giving up on this one.  I even commented to my other half last night that if it had been free I would just give up on it as I was not enjoying it.

The biggest problem with it is not that it is authored for children, I have read a lot of books aimed at that market as the realms created are often far superior to those in adult literature as they feed in to an imagination unfettered by the mundanity of modern life.  It is simply that there is no appreciable tension in the plot or the text.  Whilst Miles continually tells us that he is  on the look out for "The Girl" and that he has no idea what the "secret that was not meant to be" is or how he is going to find out never did I feel a sense of urgency for garnering this information.  You would have thought that a boy from 2012 America going to 1928 England would stick out like a sore thumb.  However, the inhabitants of Tipton must be very simple folk as his thin back story is never put in to question.  Even the awful Mrs Grimwald seems to take it at face value.

I also found the characters to have little in the way of depth or interest.  Even our protagonist, Miles, has very little to him that you can hook onto and become interested in.  Perhaps the nearest we get to a real feeling character is Susannah but she only appears fleetingly. 

The writing I found to be a little ploddy and not really designed to hold interest.  You know it's not great when daytime television is a welcome distraction.  I did appreciate that although this is an out and out fantasy tale that the author did manage to keep the "mystical" elements of it rather grounded and the decision to link them with folklore was an interesting one and a good way to bring in characters that could assist Miles.

Sadly this was not the book for me and I am just relieved that it is now completed and I can move on to the next one that will, hopefully, entertain me more.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Before He Kills by Blake Pierce

This is a fairly standard police procedural with nothing new to offer the genre. Whilst the main protagonist, Mckenzie White,is a young female officer she is disturbed rather than damaged which makes for some sort of change I suppose.  Yes,she has the murdered parent (father just to mix things up a little it) that has driven her to become a member of Law Enforcement.  Now she finds that it isn't all a bed of roses, having got her promotion to detective she finds that the other officers are too old and too "male" to fully accept her.  Considering this is set contemporaneously I find it implausible that such misogynistic attitudes would not only be condoned by the Police Chief but that he would actively foster them.

The investigation is very much based on gut feelings rather than cold,hard facts.  The little evidence they have points the way but they don't realise the significance of this evidence until over halfway through the book.  This drove me mad as it was perfectly obvious what it referred to and I know I won't be the only reader to sit muttering at the text because of this.  When Mckenzie finally realises what it all means she has to"go maverick" to solve the final puzzle.

The main character is, on the whole, pretty multi-faceted.  She is completely absorbed by her work (surprise, surprise) so it is no big reveal when she throws her boyfriend out  Getting drunk in a bar and propositioning an attractive colleague was but did at least make her seem more human.  The other characters are either creepy (the FBI agent Ellington is at the very least skeevy), full of antiquated views and not afraid to share them (Chief Nelson) or heart of gold under the bluster (Detective Porter).  We even have the "tart with a heart" thrown in courtesy of the first murder victim Hailey.

Not a terrible addition to the genre by any means but it is populated by one dimensional characters and plot that you can see through.  The saving grace is that the writing is pacy and manages to stray away from hyperbole to some extent. I did get an almost guilty pleasure from reading this book but not enough tread any further in to the series.

The Curious Heart Of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland

          This is a bit of a hit and miss novel and, if I'm being honest, I found that it did actually miss more than it hit.  The problem lies in the fact that when it hits it does so wonderfully well and you just want it to keep going and going in that vein.  sadly, you do get let down time and time again.  In fact I very nearly gave in at the 80-odd page mark as it was all rather ploddy and I couldn't see where it was going.  Fortunately another 20 or so pages in and I was rewarded for my perseverance and started to actually enjoy this rather quirky little tale.  So, only quarter of a book for it to grab me.

Ailsa herself is quite a charming character, she took me a while to warm to but I did end up rooting for her.  She is selfish and quite childlike but after spending 28 years at the mercy of her failing heart this is understandable.  I loved her forays in to becoming an adult but felt like whispering her ear - no-one ever really grows up, not if you do it right.

I loved the build up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (almost as much as I loved the fact the author got the name right - one of my particular bugbears is calling it the Edinburgh Fringe Festival).  This is likely coloured by the fact Ailsa is learning to Tango and that has to be simply the greatest ballroom dance ever - even if the author did confuse Ballroom Tango and Argentine Tango in her descriptive passages.  Of course it doesn't explicitly state Ballroom Tango in the text but when referred to as "Tango" then one has to assume it is not anything other than the Ballroom variant.

The romance element with Seb I was less convinced of.  For someone supposed to be a charmer he came across as less than charismatic to this reader and I really couldn't see what she saw in him.

I could see how this could be a very difficult read for some people, dealing as it does with acute illness, organ donation and death.  The handling of this is sensitive without becoming mawkish and is to be applauded.  However, some of Ailsa's introspection does stall the story in places and could well be why it took me so long to really gel with the book.

In summation the themes are laudable and dealt with, overall, with aplomb.  It is a slowburner and you my need to really persevere to become immersed in the story.


Off Balance by Terez Mertes Rose

I read these books out of order but it really does not matter as Off Balance and Outside The Limelight may both deal with the West Coast Ballet Theatre and have some of the same cast this really doesn't matter as each book is about a different set of characters.  In Off Balance we are only concerned with Alice (a former soloist for the WCBT who has a horrendous fall on stage that cuts short her career) and Lana a new recruit to the WCBT who is pushed straight in to the role of Soloist much to the chagrin of the established members.

The author's first hand knowledge of what it takes to make a career in the world of Ballet and how much of a toll it takes on your body are obvious throughout the book.  You can almost smell the sweat and tears of Company Class and Rehearsals through her prose.  I did find myself looking forward to the scenes set at the theatre rather than at Alice's home or at various fundraisers and events.  I think this may simply be because I have a love for dance and am intrinsically nosy about what goes on behind the scenes.

The characterisations throughout are wonderfully wrought.  The main characters of Alice and Lana are beautifully nuanced, complete people who you find yourself genuinely caring about.  Gil is a bit of a waste of space initially and seems to think he is entitled to everything.  Lana soon seems to knock that out of him but I did find myself worrying about the effect his rampant ego would have on this doormat of a girl.  As the reasons for Lana's rather wet fish personality become apparent you really do start rooting for her to overcome her upbringing.  It also serves as a salient reminder, mainly through Alice, that families are never the face they present to the world.

I loved this book and am only sad that there are only 2 books in the series and I have now read both of them.

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

I have read Rachel Caine before (The Morganville Vampire Series) so when I saw a thriller series penned by her I thought it would be worth a look at.  I already know she can write believable characters and spin a rich fantasy world so was intrigued to see how she would handle this genre.  In a lot of ways this is everything I dislike about the Thriller genre and found it quite hard to get in to.  It only really kicked in to gear and held my attention after about the 5th Chapter and then I can honestly say I was hooked.

For once we are spared the multiple viewpoints and the investigation of a series of grisly murders.  These have already happened and Gina Royal has been plunged in to a living hell and is on the run with her children.  She is not on the run from the police, she is on the run from something far more sinister - the Social Media Court of The Vigilante who have decided that she was her serial killer husband's helpmeet and just as guilty as him.  For her court appointed freedom she must be made to pay.

Maybe I am naive but I found the descriptions of the hatred outpoured online to Gina and her family a tad unbelievable.  Maybe I just want to believe that human nature is basically good and that after being acquitted at her trial nobody would hound someone in this way.  Maybe I'm wrong but I really, really hope I'm right and that nobody has to go through what Gina and her children experience at the hands of anonymous members of Joe Public.

The plot is very strong and unfolds at a natural pace and the snapshots of normal, mundane life work beautifully  You would think reading about reroofing a house and building a deck would slow the action down wouldn't you.  Instead they give you pause and a hope for normality for the family, they also (in a very peculiar way) ratchet up the tension of the storyline.  The characterisations of the Royal family are well wrought and you can feel just how torn Gina is between protecting her children from the hate and allowing them to have normal lives and you do empathise with the lengths she has (and will) go to to protect them.  Proper Momma-Bear behaviour going on here.

I was becoming disenchanted with the Thriller genre as the recent books I have read all seemed to be made from the same recipe book.  This book has reinvigorated my interest and I thoroughly enjoyed it once I struggled past the early chapters.

I do have the second book in the series but am holding off as the third installment isn't due until December 2018 so I need to pace myself here.

My Mother's Secret by Sanjida Kay

          I really wanted to like this book, it starts off so well as we are introduced to Emma and her stroppy teenage daughter Stella and are starting to get to know quiet, intelligent Lizzie.  Obviously not everything is at it seems at first or else there would be no Mother's Secret to unfurl.  As is popular in the genre each chapter is devoted to one character so we can see the same action from different viewpoints.  However, this is what spoils the book as it gives away the big reveal quite early on so you then start reading just to get to the end and find out just how everyone becomes aware of the secret.

The character of Stella is particularly well written.  She shows all the angst and changeable mood of a normal 15 year old girl, along with the foul mouth and propensity for hiding her life from her parents.  Her relationship with her younger sister and her friends is of the hot/cold variety that just feels right for her age and the things she is finding out.  Sadly, this is the only character that felt complete throughout the whole book.

Lizzie is the quintessential Country Mouse and loves nothing more than a good Lake District hike with her baby son and husband.  Emma is the Town Mouse with her therapist husband, posh house and job that she doesn't really need financially but for her own self-respect.  Both women are written as tired cliches and although the author tries I never really felt I got under the skin of either of them and didn't really care about their convoluted, entangled lives.

The biggest problem is with the execution of the plot.  The idea is a sound one (I won't go into it in detail here as that will spoil the book for you if you decide to read it).  Because some of the cataclysmic events happen prior to the tale being told her the flashback chapters give away exactly what is happening.  Even the interpersonal relationships between Lizzie and Paul and Emma and Jack flag up what is happening.  With a thriller you really want to be kept guessing and I simply wasn't; I even had the little twists worked out before they were revealed as the writing standard wasn't such that when you got to the denouement you went "Oohhhh, so that's why X said that to Y".

I did feel slightly cheated by the book as well.  The first 2 or 3 chapters are so immersive that I was up for burning the midnight oil to find out what happened.  Instead I ended up reading this alongside another book as I kept becoming disinterested in what was happening and needed a respite from the unrelenting bleakness of the relationships between wives and husbands and daughters and parents. 

There is nothing that makes this book stand out in a very crowded genre and as this is the Author's third novel in the genre I would have expected a lot more; I certainly won't be rushing to check out her earlier books.


Reinventing Mona by Jennifer Coburn

From the publisher's blurb you could be led to believe that this is a humourous book.  Sadly, it really isn't.  There are attempts at an almost black kind of humour here but they really don't work.  In fact I spent more time wincing than producing a smirk which is all I really expect a humourous book to do for me.  If you want genuine funny read Susan E Paul.

The main character, Mona, certainly lives up to her name.  She moans - a lot.  This is dressed up as being in touch with her inner self or her feelings or some such.  In reality it is just moaning - she doesn't know how to "be" in a modern world because of her hippy upbringing removed from all modern conveniences.  Although nearly 30 and having spent the last 15 years living with her outrageously wealthy Grandmother she still doesn't have a handle on life because of her upbringing.  I call hooey.

Even worse her pursuit of her CPA is nothing less than stalkerish but this is seen to be acceptable because she's female and clueless.  The employing of "The Dog" is completely laughable and her constant turning to a local theatre troupe to provide scenarios for her dates just tips the whole thing in to farce.  I'm not after realism in this genre because who wants to read about the perfect guy's foibles and filthy habits (we all have them) but I do expect there to be some grounding in the realism of how people actually are.  This certainly has none of that.

The best I can say about this book is that it passed the time and took little to no brain power to read.  The characters are all pretty much either unlikeable (the best friend who's a therapist you would have ditched long ago even if it left you friendless - who needs that negativity in your life?), preposterous or barely fill a sentence with their fictional personality.

This got 2 Stars instead of 1 because there is at least an attempt of a plot here.  Unfortunately the skeleton of this can be seen through the text so you know after only 3 or 4 chapters more or less how things will unfold.  At least the author tried to make one rather than meandering along with no real idea how to get from Point A to Point B.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

The First Dance by Catherine Law

          I can't put my finger on what it was but something was missing in this novel.  The start is so evocative and made me eager to dive in and read about these three generations of Venetian women transplanted, by marriage to London and on in to Cornwall.  The detailing of Alexa's 18th birthday ball were so rich I read on eagerly.

Unfortunately, I found the story to be, ultimately, very disappointing.  I think the main reason for this is the character of Alexa.  She is a very unworldly girl and also incredibly self-centred.  To me this was epitomised by her time away at boarding school.  She made no friends and held herself apart from her classmates, from the text it would appear that they did not shun her but rather she shunned them.  I understand that she was grieving the loss of her mother but this sets the benchmark for all her future interactions with people.

When you find the main character so unpalatable it is hard to invest in the outcome of their tale.  Even worse her beau, Harvey Ferris, seems to be a fairly upright young man of the era but he has little in the way of backbone when it comes to Alexa.  He appears to be completely blind to her faults and is, as a result, a rather one dimensional character who serves only as a foil for Alexa.

The plot itself is rather good.  Calling it a sweeping family saga would be hyperbole though.  It is a tale of an early twentieth century girl from her early years on the cusp of womanhood through to her death in the early 1980s.  However, the tale itself is only concerned with the mid-1920s through to the early 1930s and only from the perspective of the one character.  There is no real social commentary, no political unrest, just a saccharine tale of searching for her Nonna and becoming entangled with an absolute cad along the way.  This could have been so much more.

Ultimately this was a very disappointing book with very weak characterisation.  Nobody has depth or interest to their characters; behaving in completely predictable, stereotyped ways that serve only to lessen your interest in what happens to them.  The plot could have been developed so much further and rather than a rather trite love story could have encapsulated the times so much better by using a little social history.

Not one for me and it certainly didn't serve to get me looking at the author's back catalogue.

Friday, 6 April 2018

The Child by Fiona Barton

As a bit of a twist on the standard fare of a thriller our main protagonist is a journalist called Kate Waters, 40-something and one of a dying breed of pre-digital age reporters.  When she stumbles across a small piece in one of the competition's newspapers saying that a newborn baby's skeleton has been found on a building site in Woolwich she decides to investigate.  So, instead of having a "damaged detective" we have a relatively normal journalist driving the tension of the book.  This may have worked better if I had found that I was really interested in who the baby was.

The story is told from 3 main perspectives:

Emma - Lived in the house the skeletonised remains were found in for a large part of the 1970s and 1980s.  She is a bit of a mess psychologically, estranged from her mum, never knew who her father was, believes that the finding of the remains is linked to her and her past.  Even though we spend quite a bit of time with this character I never felt that we got to know her at all.

Angela - Had her baby snatched from the hospital at a few days old in the early 1970s and, even though she went on to have another child (or at least I think she did the timeline is very fuzzy about the births of Louise & Patrick but I am pretty certain Patrick came after Alice) she has never really recovered from the snatching of Alice.  Now the remains have been found she hopes that this could be Alice so she can finally make her peace with what happened.

Kate - Reporter extraordinaire who spends a lot of time bemoaning the move to digital news and celebrity culture.  She often reminisces about "the good old days of Fleet Street" and seems to still use the same techniques she learnt when she first started.  Lot of working on hunches and not being entirely truthful with people to find out what they know goes on.  Not a particularly interesting character but at least we have moved on from the most loved trope of this genre.

The writing itself is actually surprisingly good.  The interactions with characters is believable with the dialogue being actually quite lush in places.  The problem lies with characters that never break free of the page, they are all just flat and pretty two-dimensional.  Even worse, after less than about 20% of the book I had already figured out who the baby was so it then became a guessing game of what had happened to get the baby interred there - unfortunately, my first instincts were correct.

The reveal has this huge build up and when it comes you feel rather let down as it just drops fully formed in to Kate's lap and from that point it is all downhill.  The consequences of the remains being found and identified are also somewhat glossed over with only a few pages summarising the events that happened after and a lot seems to have happened for so few pages.

It wasn't a bad book but I am not compelled to try Ms Barton's earlier book or look out for others.  This was just not a rich enough telling of quite an interesting premise and I did feel a little bit let down.

Sweet Temptation by Lucy Diamond

This is my second read through of the book and although I could remember bits and pieces nothing had really stuck with me about the plot or the characters.  It is a rather bland story that meanders around without ultimately going anywhere and feels more like a very long introduction to the three main characters:

Jess - Browbeaten by her boyfriend she has no self esteem and only longs to finally set their wedding date.  For someone so meek and brought down she sure does soon switch to business woman extraordinaire when she quits her Spa job and sets up a mobile beautician's business.  My fingers itched to slap her face at the rubbish she put up with from her boyfriend and though it was a relief when she left him the actual mechanics of her regeneration to a "strong woman" were barely believable with no sign of psychological trauma which I am sure a real person would have been suffering from, after all Charlie has virtually given her Stockholm Syndrome style brainwashing.

Maddie - Busy mum who comes good in her job after her boss tries everything to humiliate her backfires.  She is an exercise zealot and when her mother dies she turns to exercise to blot out her grief and almost destroys her marriage in the process.  She is innately selfish but sees herself as selfless.  At least the Author acknowledges this within the character and we feel like we are in on a bit of a joke at Maddie's expense for chunks of the book.

Lauren - By far my favourite character.  She is eternally cynical and doesn't really care who knows it.  This was the one person who felt like she had real emotions and whose life experiences had damaged her but she accepted this and is working through the hurt of her husband's betrayal and subsequent divorce.

This is an easy read that is told in chunks that make it perfect for the commute or to pick up and put down on holiday.  I had little real connection with the characters and the plot is really more of a string of events that happen to these three women who become friends after a couple of FatBusters meetings.  There is no gradual unfolding of events with it being more of this happened and then this happened which isn't necessarily a bad thing as you never get that "one more chapter" feeling.

Overall it is a middle of the road chic lit book that passes the time entertainingly enough but never really grips you.

Jilo by J.D. Horn

The fourth, and final installment, of the Witching Savannah series is a departure from the first three.  I should have figured that out from the title really as it is a bit of a giveaway but I didn't.  To be perfectly honest this book could quite easily be read at any point in the series - although first or last makes the most chronological sense.  There is little about the Taylors until the very end of the book but not enough there to spoil any of the other 3 books or give any real indication to their contents.

This book deals with the lineage of Mother Jilo and her family.  It starts with the death of her Great Grandmother, Mother Tuesday, in 1920s Savannah and the details are rich and evocative of a different time.  You know the old saying "The past is a different Country, they do things differently there" well this book brings that to life so vividly.  Whilst there are a lot of references to the racial schism mandated by law at the time it is not pushed in your face but it is spoken of in a matter of fact way as being these people's lot in life and shows them growing and flourishing as human beings who love, laugh and lose just like anyone else.  In fact it could be seen as being quite a powerful book because the Wills family do not feel in anyway subjugated by their colour they just do their utmost to get on with living.  For the Wills women this means strengthening their connection with The Beekeeper and her ancient magic.

As a family saga you really do become immersed in the daily goings on of the Wills family and its tragedies and triumphs.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as it is somewhat of a departure from the previous 3.  There is a strong supernatural element in the book but it comes in short, sharp bursts that makes them all the more powerful.  The characters are richly wrought and entirely believable and you do get immersed in their world; even though we know that all Mother May's efforts to protect Jilo from her natural magic are ultimately fruitless it was wonderful to go on the journey of discovery with Jilo as she finds out that magic is real.

I am thoroughly disappointed to have finished this series of books and will definitely have to try some of Mr Horn's later books and I just hope they give me as much reading pleasure as this series has.  The trouble with series is that they often taper off as the saga moves on but he has managed to keep up a high standard of writing and storytelling throughout which is very, very impressive.  I think you just got yourself a new fan Mr Horn!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Paper Dolls by Anya Allyn

This is a much less gothic horror than Dollhouse and, as such, makes for far less uncomfortable reading.  In this book we get to learn of Jessamine's history and also how the girls are faring in the aftermath of their rescue.  I can't really talk too much about the plot of this as it will give the complete plot away.  All I will say is YES, what you think happened to Cassie did happen, the boys they meet on vacation are who you think they are and things really aren't going to get better any time soon.

The characters in this book are so rich and multi-dimensional it is impressive.  None of the original cast behave in a manner away from what we have come to expect and the newly introduced characters are quickly drawn on to the page so the reader can easily become immersed.  The action in this novel moves from Australia to Florida but there is an unexpected link between the two locations for Cassie to discover.

What I particularly enjoyed was the background for Jessamine.  Moving through her life in the circus, how she got her scars and her eventual death - nothing is quite what we were led to believe in the first book.  We also learn much more about the sinister Henry and, you know what, I'm beginning to think that maybe he really isn't as black as he has been painted.

This book ends on a cliffhanger and I can't wait to start book three but I am pacing myself with this series as I really don't want to spoil it all by binging.

If The Shoes Fit by Pauline Lawless

The basic premise of the book is pretty standard fare for the genre - disparate group of women brought together by circumstance or location, form a support network with each other and then go on to vastly improve their lots in life.  My initial issue with the book is the nature of the business the women are employed by - direct selling of designer shoes at a bargain price, from the descriptions of the shoes and their truly designer counterparts I am pretty sure they contravene all copyright, intellectual property and trademark laws.  This really did spoil the book for me as I was waiting for them all to be arrested for counterfeit goods.

That aside and you are left with the plot which is a little bit confused as we jump from person to person and it takes you a while to figure out which one is which - Tessa and Amber are particularly bad for this.  This isn't helped by the main cast of 4 - Rosie, Tessa, Amber and Niamh - and then the subcast of 3 - Phoebe, Lesley and Val.  Just as you settle in to which lady we are with we jump on to another one, this is fine when they are all together but it does become a bit wearing; especially as so many of the tales feel the same.  I love that the women are initially super successful in the business as well, mainly because the author goes to great lengths to show that this is achieved through their industry and hardwork rather than anything else.  I am sure sales would be good just before Christmas but it would have been interesting to see how they coped with the January/February slump notorious in retail.

It is testament to the author that I can remember all 7 of the main characters names, shows that she managed to write pretty memorable people.  However, whilst some are multi-faceted (Tessa and Amber) others are two dimensional (Niamh and Rosie) and even worse the 3 sub-characters are completely one dimensional caricatures of women.  The events in their personal lives are relatively believable with relationships beginning and ending, issues with the spouse and children.

An okay book that passed the time in an entertaining manner.  Too many issues with the business side of things (Honestly recruiting 60+ reps to direct sell for one person within a couple of months - what balderdash) for me to really get invested in the people and their situations.  If you like your Chic-Lit with complete fantasy then this will work for you; if not you may just find yourself muttering under your breath from time to time.

Me-Time Tales by Rosalind Minett

I am a big fan of the short story and have read quite a few over the years, be they collections from various authors in one volume or in a single volume.  There is something special about a perfectly formed short tale that makes the heart sing with satisfaction.  Unfortunately, that is not the case with these 13 tales and 1 poem.  The author has either forgotten that each story needs a beginning, middle and end or is so caught up with trying to provide allegory that the story suffers.  There is, therefore an unresolved aspect to the majority of these tales; in fact I felt like they were either failed chapters for the start of a book or a precis for a book rather than a complete tale in its own right.

Underwhelmed - 2 Stars
Charming enough tale but told in abrupt sentences that distract you from the characters.  Nice touches of whimsy but not quite enough to make it a good read.  Loved the double cross at the end though and I have to say I do think Pete did the right thing by Marian.

Blind Date - 2 Stars
Told from the perspective of a 16 year old girl and there is a brave attempt made to emulate the speech and language of this contemporary age group.  Sadly comes off as forced and the superficiality of the main character is rather unpleasant and not indicative of real people but rather a media friendly interpretation.

A Fitting Matter - 4 Star
By far the best story in the book and one of the longest.  I loved the early portion dealing with the trials and tribulations of getting your first bra.  Just the right amount of humour combined with the pathos of the family estrangement and the denouement tied everything up with a nice shiny bow. 

Finding Out - 3 Star
This one is a ghost story with a little bit of witchcraft thrown in and is one of the longer tales.  This length gives the characters - Sara and James - time to develop and for the background of the haunting to be explained.  Their experiences with the apparition are vastly different but Sara's is told in compelling detail.  This is where it then falls apart unfortunately as the ending is rushed and feels tacked on just to close the tale off.

Staying Put - 1 Star
I can see what the author is trying to achieve with this claustrophobic little tale but sadly she does not pull it off.  Left me feeling confused and disappointed.

Eaten Up - 2 Star
Moments of fun in this tale of mother's words warping a childs view - If you don't eat up you won't have babies!  Unfortunately mother was wrong and now we have 6 under the age of 5 to cope with.  Good description of the agony and ecstacy of child rearing but again felt rushed.

Lament - 2 Star
Traditional poem in rhyming lines, not bad but not great either.

First Feast - 3 Star
This one in particular felt like the synopsis for a longer form story which then failed to materialise from the author's imagination.  Wonderful description of the boarding school and the first glimpse of plentiful food after the end of World War II but that is by far the best bit of the story.

A Slight Invasion - 3 Star
What do you do when the babies don't come?  She submits herself to interminable rounds of IVF, he decides to be unfaithful.  Quirky story but unresolved in the end; I am sure the Book Clubs will love this one as there is much to discuss about motivation and where the tale may have gone but it does leave you feeling a little cheated.

The Real Prize - 2 Star
This one is all about how the love of a good woman bettered one man and his former friend and colleague's decline in the same time period.  The narrator is unlikeable and although this perhaps feel like one of the closest to an intended short story it still has, that word again, a rushed feeling to the prose.

A Change Of Support - 2 Star
Great description of a controlling relationship and how one person can strip everything from you whilst making you believe it is for the best, Matt does everything that the Mental Health websites tells us to check to see if our partner is a narcissist.  The author has clearly watched one too many Infomercials (that Insomnia can be a right pain can't it) as the mattress Matt buys for her has all the blurb from one and from the tale of trying to unpack it I am sure the author either caved in and purchased or knows someone who did.  The early half of the story is the best bit and it rapidly becomes strangely surreal and unappealing.

A Material Trip - 2 Star
I cannot remember one single thing about this story so maybe I should downgrade it to 1 Star.  However, I have marked it in my trusty notebook as a 2 so it will stay that way.

Well Woman - 3 Star
We all know how important it is to keep an eye on our health and one of the oft purported ways is to have a Well Woman check annually (or a Well Man if you are, you know, well male).  This is a fun tale told with a tongue in checking knowing nod to all ladies about the horrors of that back opening gown and the intrusive poking and prodding.  I now find myself wanting my own little prosthesis for a stress ball.

Anti-Dote - 3 Star
Odd little tale of aging and how it creeps up on us as our memory of being young and attractive as only youth can render us is how we eternally see ourselves.  Quite heart wrenching actually when she realises that the beige blur in the mirror is not a fault in the glass but a problem with her age and gravity and time's deleterious effects on the human form.

There is a good range of tales here to cater for most tastes but it is the execution that, in my opinion, lets them down.  Passed a rather boring Saturday afternoon well enough but I do feel my time could have been better spent with another author.

Shopaholic Ties The Knot by Sophie Kinsella

What is it with Becky Bloomwood and completely unrealistic scenarios?  I desperately want to slap her and bring her screaming in to reality ...