Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

I had not read a book by Marian Keyes for quite a few years, so thought I’d try Grown Ups as I had seen a lot of good publicity about it. This is the story of three brothers, Johnny, Ed and Liam, and their families and friends. We are thrown right in at the deep end with a huge argument at Johnny’s fiftieth birthday party. Cara (Ed’s wife) has concussion which has loosened her tongue, and her revelations tear everyone apart.

At this point we have no idea who all these people are, and it is very confusing. The story now jumps back in time, and we are gradually able to make sense of it all. As a plot device it is unsubtle, and it distracted me from the story. I eventually decided to just read the first chapters again.

It’s not so easy to judge when reading on a kindle, but this book seemed much longer than average; I think it would have benefitted from a good edit. There were an awful lot of characters introduced in a short space of time. This made it quite difficult to tell who was who, and meant that they were not as well developed as they could have been.

Grown Ups is well written, but there is not much in the way of plot. The action mostly takes place at a series of extravagant family gatherings hosted by Johnny and Jessie. Marian Keyes explores some fairly serious subjects – bulimia, refugees, money, online retail, age difference in relationships – but none is gone into in enough depth. I did enjoy Grown Ups, but it could have been so much better.  

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

The Break Up by Tilly Tennant

The Break Up by Tilly Tennant

Originally titled A Cat Called Cupid, this is the story of Lara and Theo who both think that a grey tabby – known as both Fluffy and Satchmo – is their cat. As cats will do exactly as they please, they must share him, but therein lies the problem.

Fluffy appeared at Lara’s door when she really needed a friend, and has helped her cope with the betrayal of her boyfriend getting together with her best friend. After this double whammy it is no wonder that Lara is not in the mood for romance, but concentrates instead on setting up her new business, Songbird Wedding Services.

Theo plays saxophone in a jazz band, and the rancour between him and Lara gets much worse when the band turn up to play at a wedding, but no one has told Lara. It’s a well-known trope in romantic fiction to have the two main characters at each other’s throats to begin with, but here I felt there was so much bad feeling they might never get past it.   

I chose to read and review this book because of the cat; and I preferred the original title. I enjoyed the descriptions of Chester (a city I used to know quite well as I lived just over the border in North Wales). Being a wedding planner is also a common theme, but having the office in a summer house in her garden gave it a modern feel and she had such an easy commute.

The characters (some more likeable than others) are believable, and there is a lot of humour in the descriptions of the weddings and her conversations with her mother. I’ve not read anything by Tilly Tennant before, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Break Up and would definitely recommend it. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

A Springtime Affair by Katie Fforde

A Springtime Affair by Katie Fforde

I am a huge fan of Katie Fforde’s books and have read them all; some many times over as my favourite ones are the reading equivalent of comfort food (Paradise Fields, Highland Fling, Wild Designs and Artistic Licence).

In A Springtime Affair two threads are woven together – the stories of Gilly, who runs a boutique B&B, and her daughter Helena, a weaver. It is refreshing in a work of romantic fiction to have a main character who is older. When Gilly’s son, Martin, encourages her to sell up, it is sobering to realise that she is in her fifties, not in her eighties, running her own successful business, and not ready for the rocking chair just yet.

Having survived an abusive relationship and acrimonious divorce, Gilly has turned the home she loves into a successful B&B; she enjoys making everything just right for her guests, and is always cooking and baking shortbread. Out of the blue, her son suggests that Gilly sells her property and lives in his granny annexe, so that she would be available to babysit her grand-daughter. The sheer selfishness and greed of this plan beggars belief. I can’t believe she is even willing to consider it. However, Gilly only wants the best for her children, and does wonder if she should agree, and then she could also help Helena get her foot on the property ladder.

Unlike Martin, Helena would never dream of agreeing to this; she is an independent woman making a living as a craftsperson. When property consultant Leo turns up, Gilly is flattered by his attention to begin with, until she comes to her senses and finds out that he is in league with Martin. Alarm bells begin to ring when Helena (who is a super-recogniser) tells her where she has seen Leo before.

Jago is Helena’s landlord; she helps him rescue a kitten, and, as neither of them is looking for romance, they agree to be each other’s plus-one to stop their friends matchmaking. Of course, this is a Katie Fforde novel so we all know how it will end; the interesting part is how we get there.

A Springtime Affair is well written with believable characters and realistic dialogue. I really loved William’s eccentric aunts – they are great fun and added so much humour to the story.

For each novel, Katie has always researched some craft or occupation for her main characters; this time it was weaving, and we also learned a bit about gliding and running a B&B. This helps to make them more interesting, and other writers now seem to be following her lead (I read one recently about artisan gin, and another about being a museum curator).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Springtime Affair and, as always, look forward to her new book early next year. Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a copy in a exchange for an honest review.

Felicity at the Cross Hotel by Helena Fairfax

Felicity at the Cross Hotel by Helena Fairfax

Felicity at the Cross Hotel is set amidst the spectacular scenery of the Lake District. Patrick Cross has come home to the hotel he has inherited following the sudden death of his father, and is finding the transition very difficult. He was running a diving school in Dominica, so you can understand why. Felicity (Fliss) Everdene is taking some time away from her high-powered job to help out at the Cross Hotel (her mother and Patrick’s are old friends).

To begin with, Patrick is suspicious of Fliss; is she working undercover to acquire the hotel for her father? As a globe-trotting executive for her family’s international hotel chain, you could be forgiven for assuming she would be a spoiled little rich girl. However, despite her background, Fliss is down to earth, gets on with people and is not afraid of getting her hands dirty, so she soon wins everyone over.

Without giving too much away, Patrick left the country following a traumatic incident in his youth that he now has to face up to, and come to terms with, so that he can move on with his life. Helena Fairfax handles this with great sensitivity, and Patrick grows as a character because he confronts his grief and guilt.

The love story between Fliss and Patrick is beautifully developed with just enough obstacles to keep the reader guessing right up to the end. I love the symmetry of beginning and ending the book in exactly the same location.

The characters are believable and relatable, the dialogue authentic, and the author has put her finger on the pros and cons of living in such an isolated location; everyone knows your business, but everyone looks out for each other too.

Told from the alternate viewpoints of Fliss and Patrick, Felicity at the Cross Hotel is a well-written and heart-warming story with a strong sense of place and an eye-catching cover. I thoroughly recommend that you give it a try, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other titles by Helena Fairfax.

Maybe One Day by Debbie Johnson

Maybe One Day by Debbie Johnson

Maybe One Day was recommended in Milly Johnson’s email newsletter so I thought I’d give it a go. The road trip element was part of the attraction (I love road movies) as were the hidden letters.

Jess has just been to her mother’s funeral. Afterwards, while searching the attic, she discovers a box of cards and letters that she has never seen before. The oldest of these letters goes back seventeen years. Parents hiding mail from their children, thinking they know best, is a well-used device that works really well here. It provides the impetus for the rest of the story. Our curiosity is aroused; what happened, and why did they conceal the letters?

This beautifully written story is about so much more than a search for lost love; it also illustrates the importance of friendship, and how damage done in childhood can be overcome, but will still leave its mark. The effects of grief on mental health are dealt with sensitively. What happened to Jess and Joe all those years ago affected them differently. They found ways to cope, but they will always bear the scars.

While parts of this story are heartbreaking, this is offset by humour. I enjoyed the banter between Jess’s cousin, Michael, and Belinda (an old friend of Joe’s). As they accompany Jess on the road trip, from Manchester to Ireland, Cornwall, London and New York, they are resourceful and help to keep her spirits up.

If I had one small criticism of Maybe One Day, it would be the ending. Without giving anything away, I thought it came to a bit of an abrupt halt. I would have liked more.

I would definitely recommend this book, but it will take you on an emotional roller coaster ride so keep the tissues handy.

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