Archive | February, 2011

Book Review – The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

26 Feb

When the sophisticated Innes Kent turns up on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, she carves out a new life. In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child. Elina struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events. As Ted begins to search for answers, an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed, separated by fifty years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.

The Hand That First Held is Maggie O’Farrell’s fifth book and Winner of the Costa Novel Award 2010. The novel focuses on the lives of two women; Lexie and Elina. We first meet Lexie as a young girl in the 1950s, living with her parents and longing to escape her rural confines to experience life. Elina, lives in present day London and has recently given birth to her first child. As their stories unwind it becomes clear that despite their different backgrounds, Elina and Lexie have more in common than their independence of spirit with ties that bind them across half a century.

The novel alternates between Lexie’s and Elina’s stories, starting with alternating chapters that focus on the events that bring Lexie to London and her developing relationship with journalist Innes Kent and Elina’s feelings about her new role as a mother following a traumatic birth. The two stories are seemingly unrelated but as the novel gathers pace, past and present threads come ever closer to revealing a dramatic truth connecting the two women making this an unputdownable piece of contemporary fiction.

This is a story on many levels and through Lexie and Elina and their relationships, Maggie O’Farrell explores themes of love, parenthood, jealousy and loss and the repercussions of actions in time. As with her last book, The Vanishing of Esme Lennox, O’Farrell seems to capture moments and emotions in time perfectly; taking the reader on journey into the future to see the repercussions of said actions and events and illustrating that life can change in a second.  I really enjoyed the descriptions of London, and particularly Soho in the 1950s and this book appealed to my love of history (and particularly recent history) as well as my love of a good story.

Maggie O’Farrell really gets inside the mind of her characters and this is an emotional read. I liked Lexie, her strength of character and fighting spirit, but it was Elina that I identified with most as she tries to come to terms with the life changing experience that is becoming a Mum for the first time. O’Farrell has really captured the mix of emotions and highs and lows of the first few months of parenthood warts and all.

I found Elina’s husband Ted’s perspective on fatherhood fascinating. The arrival of his son causes him to reflect on his own childhood, revealing complex memories that have been long hidden and creating a mystery to the story that had me engrossed and kept me guessing throughout.

O’Farrel is a clever author and just as I thought I’d worked out the linkage between past and present, the story would twist and I’d find myself having to guess again. Despite being a book that largely focuses on relationships and emotions, The Hand That First Held Mine has an excellent pace and enough twists to leave me wondering if the full answer would ever be revealed.

This is a thought provoking novel; one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve closed the final page. I’ve now read all of Maggie’s books and her writing goes from strength to strength. The Hand That First Held Mine is her best yet and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!


With massive thanks to Helena at Headline for sending me a copy of this book for review.

You can find out more about Maggie and her books at:

A version of this review also appears at:

Giveaway – The Hating Game by Talli Roland

24 Feb

The lovely Talli Roland, author of The Hating Game contacted me yesterday and is very kindly providing a paperback copy of the book for me to give away to one of my lucky readers.

As I mentioned in my ‘hot picks for March‘ post, the other day, the paperback version of The Hating Game is released on 9th March. The ebook came out in November and was an instant hit making it into the top 25 on Amazon on the day of release! You can read my review here.

To enter, just leave a comment in the box below and I’ll draw a name using after the closing date. This giveaway is UK only and closes at midnight on Friday 4th March.

Good luck!!

March book release preview – my hot picks

21 Feb

There are lots of lovely books coming out in March. Here are my hot picks for the month. Don’t forget to let me know yours!

Rosebush by Michele Jaffe
3rd March
Published by Atom

I’ve heard lots of good things about this one – sounds like a gripping thriller!

Jane is found, near death, in a rosebush a victim of hit and run. But as she’s convalescing she realizes that her friends’ stories and her memories of what happened that night aren’t adding up. And now the only thing she does know is that one of her friends isn’t so friendly. One of them tried to kill her. Sometimes the truth is a very thorny thing…

Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne
8th March
Published by Gallery Press


I loved Hester’s last book, The Finishing Touches. I haven’t been able to find any UK publication details for this one but it sounds like a great read.

Evie Nicholson is in love . . . with the past. An antiques appraiser in a London shop, Evie spins fanciful attachments to Victorian picture frames, French champagne glasses, satin evening gloves, and tattered teddy bears—regardless of their monetary value.

Alice Nicholson is in love . . . with Fraser Graham, a dashing Scotsman whom Evie secretly desires. As crisply neat and stylish as Evie is cheerfully cluttered, Alice is a professional organizer determined to pull her sister out of her comfort zone—and who presents her with an irresistible offer.

As a favor to friends of Fraser’s family, Evie jumps at the chance to appraise a Scottish castle full of artifacts and heirlooms. What could be more thrilling than roaming the halls of Kettlesheer and uncovering the McAndrews’ family treasures—and dusty secrets?

But crossing paths with moody heir Robert McAndrew has Evie assessing what she wants the most . . . and at an upcoming candlelight gala, a traditional dance will set her heart reeling.

The Hating Game by Talli Roland
9th March
Published by Prospera Press


The Hating Game was released as an ebook in November last year and the paperback version is out this month. I really enjoyed it – chick lit with attitude! You can read my review here.

When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she’s confident she’ll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she’s perfected from years of her love ‘em and leave ‘em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £50,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it’s revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end? Who will win The Hating Game?

RSVP by Helen Warner
17th March
Published by Simon and Schuster


This is Helen Warner’s debut novel and I’m looking forward to discovering a new author and isn’t the cover lovely?

Four women, one wedding and a day to remember – or rather forget …Anna’s world is rocked when she receives an invitation to her ex Toby’s nuptials – Toby was The One, The Love of Her Life, The One That Got Away. Will attending his Big Day finally give her the sense of closure she so desperately craves? Or will it only re-open old wounds? Clare is Anna’s best friend, the person who was there for her when she and Toby split all those years ago. But little does Clare know that Toby’s wedding day will also change her own life for ever. Ella is a classic femme fatale. She loves men and leaves them without a backward glance. But the one person who’s never fallen for her charms is Toby. As he prepares to get hitched, is it too late for a last-ditch attempt to win his heart? Finally, Rachel is the blushing bride-to-be. This should be the happiest day of her life. So how come she feels nothing but a terrible sense of foreboding?

Cougars by Claire Irvin
17th March
Published by Sphere


I was send a sample of this one a little while ago and can’t wait to read the whole book.

Caroline Walker has it all. At 42, her immaculate looks and toned body are of a woman half her age. She’s a successful entrepreneur, and juggles her career with domestic bliss: wife of City trading sensation Les Walker, and mother to their teenage daughter Rachel. But when Caroline learns that Les has been having an affair, her perfect world falls apart. Caroline is suddenly single – something she hasn’t been in a very long time. With the help of Maryanne, her outgoing and ex-Hollywood starlet friend, Caroline’s life is transformed into a glamorous social whirl as she discovers her missing twenties. And the young men she should have been dating then, too …But is Caroline ready to put the past behind her? And can true love really strike twice?

The Secret Shopper Affair by Kate Harrison
17th March
Published by Orion

Having read and loved the first two books in the Secret Shopper series I’m very very excited about this one!

Best mates Sandie, Emily and Grazia have been through so much together: widowhood, divorce and redundancy for starters. They thought they’d be friends forever, but they reckoned without the dividing effects of men and money… Shopping guru Sandie is on a roll, with a baby on the way and Toby, her posh totty partner, proposing every five minutes. But when she realises the legendary Garnett’s Department Store is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, she knows she’s the only one to save it, even though Toby’s mother seems determined to scupper the rescue bid. For Emily, Sandie’s apparently perfect life is a bitter pill to swallow, especially as Emily’s been banned from having a second child by her boyfriend, Will, who is more interested in saving the planet than her. As the rifts grow, will she learn to stand on her own two feet, or give in to a new temptation? Glamorous Grazia tries to play peace-maker but she’s facing her own big decision: whether to develop her new career as an erotic embroidery artist… or give up on her talent for the sake of her new, needy lover? Can the magic of retail bring the secret shoppers back together, or is it time to shut up shop for good?

Summer of Love by Katie Fford
17th March
Published by

I’m really looking forward to reading a book set in summer for the first time this year and I think the cover for this one is gorgeous!

Sian Bishop has only ever experienced one moment of recklessness – a moment that resulted in her beloved son Rory. It’s not that she doesn’t love the outcome of that wild night, but since then she has always taken the safer route. So when dependable, devoted Richard suggests a move to the beautiful English countryside, she leaves the hustle and bustle of the city behind, and she throws herself into the picture-postcard cottage garden, her furniture restoration business, and a new life in the country.

Her good intentions are torpedoed on a glorious summer’s evening with the arrival of Gus Berresford. One-time explorer and full-time heartbreaker, Gus is ridiculously exciting, wonderfully glamorous and a completely inappropriate love interest for a single mum. But Gus and Sian have met before…

Sian has no use for a fling, she simply mustn’t fall in love with the most unlikely suitor ever to cross her path – even if he has now crossed her path twice. But who knows what can happen in a summer of love…

Lizzie Harrison Loses Control by Pippa Wright
18th March
Published by

Another debut author to discover – this one has been getting lots of good reviews and sounds like a fun read.

Lizzy Harrison has everything under control …

Lizzy Harrison isn’t a romantic heroine. Not even close. She doesn’t have a cat, owns no more shoes than the average person, and is in no way hopelessly scatty and disorganised. In fact her life is in perfect order, and that’s just how she likes it. Okay, so she hasn’t met the right man yet, but she really doesn’t have the time what with her busy job in PR and her packed schedule of improving activities. Her diary is planned months in advance and she’s determined that nothing spontaneous will force its way into her life.

…hasn’t she?

But when her best friend Lulu questions her need for control, Lizzy starts to wonder if she needs to let go a little. So when she’s thrown into the arms of her boss’s number one client, notorious comedian (and love-rat) Randy Jones, she reluctantly relaxes her hold on routine. Lizzy Harrison is about to find out that losing control could win her more than she had ever imagined.

So, those are my hot picks for March – what are you looking forward to reading next month?

Book Review: To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell

17 Feb

When Ellie Kendall loses her husband Jamie in an accident she feels her world has come to an end. But life has to go on and eventually she’s ready for a new start – at work, that is. She definitely doesn’t need a new man, not while she has a certain secret visitor to keep her company…

Entrepreneur Zack McLaren seems to have it all, but the girl he can’t stop thinking about won’t give him a second glance. Why can’t she pay him the kind of attention she lavishes on Elmo, his time-share dog?

Having moved to an exclusive flat in North London, Ellie becomes friendly with neighbour Roo who’s harbouring a secret of her own. Between them, can both girls sort out their lives? Guilt is a powerful emotion.

But a lot can happen in a year in Primrose Hill…

Firstly, a confession; To the Moon and Back is the first Jill Mansell book I’ve read. I’m really not sure how Jill’s books (this is book number twenty-two) have escaped me for so long but if this one is anything to go by; I need to add the rest to my collection quick smart! I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this book and stayed up way past my bedtime so that I could finish it.

 I haven’t mentioned covers in my reviews for a while but this one really caught my attention. The colour is great and I thought the street scene depicted was really inviting. It’s refreshing to have a night scene on a book cover and I love this one with its shiny gold moon and stars – it sets the scene for the story perfectly.

There is something to appeal to readers of all ages in To the Moon and Back with a really good variety of characters. There wasn’t a single character that I didn’t like which in itself is quite unusual, although I have to say some of Roo’s antics at the start of the book had me shaking my head and wishing she’d listen to her friends more!

I thought Ellie was very well written and as the lead character I warmed to her immediately, not just because I was sympathetic to her sad situation but because I liked her outlook on life and she seemed very realistic – I loved the fact that when she was ill she asked for a can of Tizer :-D

As the story went on, I liked the way her character developed as she moved to her new home in Primrose Hilll. Ellie’s confidence grows as she makes a friend in neighbour Roo and begins a new job. Gradually, Ellie begins to contemplate new romantic relationships and I was really rooting for her to get the outcome she wanted.

My other favourite characters were Ellie’s actor father-in-law, Tony and artist Marsha. I thought their story was wonderful and it brought a tear to my eye more than once. I also have to admit to developing a bit of a character crush on Zach – he’s such a sweetie!

 As you may have gathered, I’m a complete romantic at heart and To the Moon and Back has romance in buckets. Mansell cleverly balances threads dealing with bereavement, infidelity and guilt with themes of true love, love at first sight and love at any age. Her style is very warm and treads just the right line between sensitivity, realism and humour making this book a lovely feel-good read. For me the pace of the story was excellent and the characterisation and conversations spot on with easy and realistic dialogue – you can really tell that Jill is an experienced writer.

I love discovering a new author and there’s nothing better than when that author has lots of other books to check out. Jill has an amazing twenty one other books to her credit and I’ll definitely be loading a few onto my Kindle this weekend – let me have your recommendations in the comments box below! If like me, you haven’t read anything by Jill before I highly recommend To the Moon and Back as a very good place to start.

I’d like to thank Helena at Headline for sending me a copy of this book to review.


You can find out more about Jill and her books at:

Misguided Angel giveaway winner

15 Feb

The winner is …


Congratulations! I’ve sent you an email. Thank you to everyone who entered.  Look out for more giveaways very soon!

Book Review – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

8 Feb

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

I was drawn to this book for a number of reasons: firstly, the early part of the book is set in Oxford and more specifically the Bodleian Library. The Bodleian holds a special place in my heart as I worked there for a year as a trainee librarian. Secondly, it’s a book about books, libraries and history which are three of my absolute favourite subjects and finally, it promised a combination of all of these elements with a good dose of paranormal romance involving vampires, witches and daemons so I was itching to get my hands on a copy and start reading!

A Discovery of Witches is a tome in itself at almost six hundred pages long and I’ll admit it has taken me longer than I expected to read it. This isn’t for any negative reason but purely because once I started reading I wanted to take my time over it and enjoy every word. With rich descriptions, both modern and historical, an intricate layered plot and characters that are not only strong and intelligent, but have truly well thought out back stories, this is a book to take your time over and enjoy as events unfold.

The story starts as Diana Bishop discovers a bewitched manuscript, Ashmole 782, in the Bodleian Library, Oxford; a manuscript that has been ‘lost’ for centuries and soon has a whole host of witches, daemons and vampires trying to get their hands on it. I love that the story of Ashmole 782 has a footprint in fact – the book is actually missing from the Bodleian library and this just adds to the feeling of authenticity that the book gives. The descriptions of the library itself, the books and manuscripts held within it and the mechanisms of historical research are spot on and the attention to detail shows that Harkness is both author and scholar.

We learn that Diana is a witch with a rich lineage but has firmly put the magical elements of her life to the side – or so she thinks. As she draws the attention of mysterious and reclusive scientist and vampire, Matthew Clairmont and witches and daemons begin to congregate in Oxford to try to discover how she was able to access Ashmole 782, she finds that she can no longer ignore her heritage or the magical world she was born into.

Throughout the book, Diana is narrated in the first person which lets the reader get to know her fears, desires and abilities very well. As Diana is forced to come to terms with the power she has, I really enjoyed watching her develop and change.  Her character is incredibly brave and strong willed. She has no hesitation in standing up to Matthew and a number of other powerful creatures that cross her path or in fighting for those she loves.

Diana’ s attraction to Matthew is instant but being a witch and warned from a young age that vampires are dangerous creatures not to be trusted, she initially fights against the feelings she has. Matthew is as complex a character as Diana, perhaps more so because of the numerous ‘lives’ he has lived. His experiences are recounted throughout the book and as his detailed history is revealed so are his true feelings for Diana. The love story between Diana and Matthew will  appeal strongly to those looking for a grown up dose of paranormal romance and the ‘forbidden’ element to their relationship will have readers gripped as the couple are forced to flee a series of safe havens to protect themselves.

As you would expect with a book of this scale, there is an impressive supporting cast of characters to both aid and thwart Matthew and Diana. I was impressed with the depth of back story that Harkness has given each of her charaters. Amongst my favourites were housekeeper and singer of bawdy songs, Marthe; Diana’s aunt Sarah and the Bishop family house which is a fantastic and surprising character in its own right!

Further mysteries are revealed as the story progresses and I thoroughly enjoyed the way events slowly unraveled and layer upon layer of plot built up as elements are intricately linked together so that seemingly insignificant or straightforward details suddenly become a key clue as a new light is shed on them.

As I reached the end of the book I was relieved to see the foundations laid for the next part of the story and I’m so pleased this is only the first in a trilogy. Highly recommended!

A Discovery of Witches was released today and I’d like to thank Caitlin at Headline for sending me a copy to review.


You can find out more about Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches at: and

Book review: Bloody Valentine by Melissa de la Cruz plus Misguided Angel giveaway!

4 Feb

They’re Young, Fabulous and Fanged…

Vampires have powers beyond human comprehension: strength that defies logic, speed that cannot be captured on film, the ability to shapeshift and more. But all too often the only thing that eludes their grasp is love.

So when two young lovers are kept a part by a centuries old decree, they’ll be forced to learn that, in matters of the heart, not even immortals have total control. . . or do they?

Bloody Valentine is a Blue Bloods novella; it supports the main Blue Bloods series and fills in some of the blanks but isn’t directly part of it and doesn’t really move the plot forward from that of the main novels. As a novella, Bloody Valentine is short – only 147 pages in total but as with the rest of this series, Melissa de la Cruz manages to fit a huge amount of story, intrigue and action into those pages. 

Released at the end of January, just in time for Valentines day, Bloody Valentine consists of three short love stories. The first and third stories are set in the present and provide updates on some of the series regulars. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that I am so glad to see Oliver back in one of the stories!

The second story, and my personal favourite, takes us back to 1985 and focuses on Schuyler’s mother, Allegra Van Alen. I really enjoyed finding out a bit more of the back story surrounding the mysterious Allegra and I love the depth Melissa has given her plot and characters in this series.  My only frustration is that I now have a million more questions that need to be answered and the next book isn’t out until October :-(

Melissa also gives a tantalising glance in one of the stories at a character from her new adult series The Witches of East End, which will be out in June.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for fans of the series.


You can find out more about Melissa and her books at: and at

Misguided Angel Giveaway!

I have a brand new copy of the latest Blue Bloods novel (book five in the series), Misguided Angel to give away. You can read my review of the book here. To win just leave a comment below and I’ll pick a name at random after the closing date. This giveaway is UK only and will close at midnight on Monday 14th February.

Good luck!

January round up

2 Feb

This is a new feature for me. I haven’t done a monthly round up before but I thought I’d start for 2011. January was a bit of a busy month for me and for various reasons I didn’t get as much blogging done as I would have liked. My aim is to get back to posting at least every other day so we’ll see how that goes for February!

I didn’t get as much reading done as I’d have liked either but I managed to read six books. My book of the month for January is Beautiful Creatures which was something a little bit different for me and pure escapism. It had me gripped for all of its 600 plus pages!

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

A Girl Like You by Gemma Burgess

Beautiful Creatures by Lulu Taylor

Bloody Valentine by Melissa de la Cruz

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

Three of these were new releases for January, two were new purchases and one was from the TBR pile and had been there since August last year! I read two on my Kindle and the rest in hard copy :) and two of my choices counted towards the British Books Challenge that The Bookette is running.

Looking at my stats for January, the most popular review on the site was for Ali McNamara’s From Notting Hill with Love Actually. FNHWLA and variations of it was also the most popular search term! Although I only posted it last week, my ‘Top 5 most anticipated chick lit books of 2011‘ was the next most popular post which has inspired me to think of a few more top 5’s that I might post in February.

So, that was my first month of blogging in 2011. In February, I’ll be reviewing fab new release A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness,  Bloody Valentine by Melissa de la Cruz and Costa winner The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell plus lots more! And look out for a great giveaway next week where you could win a copy of Marrying Out of Money by Nicky Schmidt.

What are you looking forward to reading in February?