Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane

Mad About You by Mhairi McFarlane

I am a big fan of Mhairi McFarlane’s books, and love her writing style, but Mad About You did not resonate with me quite as much as the others. In the beginning, I found the main character Hattie very hard to relate to, but as she deals with the unresolved trauma from her past, Hattie’s character evolves and she emerges stronger and more confident. Parts of this story made me very angry, and it’s down to the skill of the writer that the narrative is not overwhelmingly negative – the lasting impression is of female solidarity and empowerment.

Mad About You is a much darker book than the title and cover would lead you to believe. While there is romance, it is not the main focus. The characters are believable, even the horrible ones, and the Leeds setting makes a pleasant change. Mhairi McFarlane deals with some pretty heavy topics – toxic family relationships, coercive control, gaslighting, and the negative power of social media to name but a few – with a great deal of sensitivity. Too often controlling behaviour is hidden behind closed doors, so writing about it can only be a good thing. While this was not my favourite Mhairi McFarlane book, I really enjoyed reading it. Everyone should have a best friend like Lorna, and the showdown near the end is superb. Thanks to HarperCollins and NetGalley for providing a digital copy to review.

Christmas Every Day by Beth Moran

Christmas Every Day by Beth Moran

Having had to leave Edinburgh in a bit of a hurry, Jenny arrives at her late grandmother’s cottage on the edge of Sherwood Forest  to discover it is in a bit of a state. The garden is so overgrown she has to spend the night in the shed. Stubbornly refusing help from her neighbour Mack, she hacks down the bushes and finally gets inside to discover that her grandmother was a bit of a hoarder. You can’t help but admire her fortitude as most people would have run a mile. With little money and nowhere else to go, Jenny gets a job in the café, where she is paid in food, and becomes the nanny to five children, including very mischievous triplets, where she is tested to the limit but does not give up.

Despite appearances to the contrary, this is not a Christmas book. Had I not read an excerpt at the end of another Beth Moran book, Just the Way You Are, I would have given it a wide berth, but I liked Jenny’s voice and wanted to read the rest of her story. In Christmas Every Day we meet a wonderful cast of well-drawn characters, as Jenny finds her feet and gets to know the locals. She is invited to join the book group, where books take a back seat and everyone sets themselves a challenge to complete before the end of the year. There are laugh-out-loud moments, some sadness and a mystery to solve, while Jenny discovers that family are not always those you are related to. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by Beth Moran.

Just the Way You Are by Beth Moran

Just the Way You Are by Beth Moran

Just the Way You Are is the story of a journey of self discovery, and while there is romance it is not the main focus of the narrative. Twenty-nine years old and still living with her self-obsessed and manipulative mother, Ollie is at the end of her tether. She hatches a plan to escape and moves to a cottage on the edge of Sherwood Forest, close to the library where she will meet her new clients (she works for the adult literacy charity ReadUp). She plans to enjoy the freedom of living on her own for the first time, and work through her ‘Dream List’. She made this list when she was sixteen, but life did not turn out as she imagined it would.

Beth Moran presents us with a wonderful cast of well-written and totally believable characters, though some of them are quite hard to like. The story involves some fairly serious issues – extreme poverty, domestic violence, toxic family relationships, drug use and illiteracy – but handles them with sensitivity. There is humour and there is sadness; what follows is by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, but Ollie learns to stand on her own two feet (with the help of her new friends) and works out what it takes for her to be happy. Thanks to Boldwood Books and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

What Once Was Home by BK Bass

What Once Was Home by BK Bass

I’m not normally a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, especially not when there are aliens involved as well, but when What Once Was Home appeared on the list of Rosie’s Book Review Team, I thought I'd try something outside of my comfort zone, and I’m so glad I did. BK Bass is an excellent storyteller and drew me right into this world where everyday life has changed so completely. The book opens with the prologue, and Jace, now in his sixties, is looking back to Landfall Day when the ‘twigs’ arrived and the world as he knew it ended. Forced to grow up fast in order to survive, Jace becomes someone the others look to for leadership. Initially, the various groups of survivors work together against the common enemy, but eventually a destructive tyrannical force seeks overall control, and they have to fight to hang on to their humanity.

Mostly told from Jace’s point of view, with excerpts from his autobiography at the beginning of each chapter, there are occasional ‘Interludes’ that fill in gaps in the story and help us to understand the bigger picture. Setting What Once Was Home in the rural backwater of Lewisburg in North Carolina emphasises the isolation after the invasion when all communication and transport networks have been destroyed. The outside world no longer exists and survival in the here and now is all that matters.

The characters are well drawn and believable, and the writing makes an alien invasion seem perfectly plausible. The world building is convincing and has a cinematic quality that I could imagine being turned into a film or TV series. This is the first book by BK Bass that I have read, but it won’t be the last – sometimes it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone. Thanks to the author for a digital copy to review. #RBRT

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

It took me two attempts to get into Book Lovers, the first time I gave up as it didn’t grab me, but I kept reading glowing reviews so thought I’d give it another go. I am so glad I did. Nora is a successful literary agent and a bit of a workaholic; Charlie is an editor with a reputation for discovering bestsellers. Their first meeting is not a success. Nora wants Charlie to work on the new book by her client, Dusty Fielding, which is set in the small town of Sunshine Falls, N Carolina. He turns her down.

Two years later, ‘Once in a Lifetime’ is a bestseller, and Nora’s sister Libby persuades her to go away for a few weeks for a break before her third child is born. Unbeknown to Nora, their destination is Sunshine Falls. What follows could be the script of a rom-com – I could almost see it playing in my head – as Nora and Charlie get to know each other and fall in love. There are obviously obstacles in their way, but no spoilers so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

The story is told entirely from Nora’s point of view so we know what she’s thinking and how her views change as the story unfolds. The characters are well written and believable, there is a lot of humour at the expense of small-town life where everyone knows your business, and we get fascinating glimpses into the world of books and bookshops.

The outstanding feature of Book Lovers is the relationship between Nora and Charlie. The witty banter, amusing emails, and the fact that there is enough interaction between them for their romance to be believable make this one of the best romance novels I have read in a long time. The narrative strand about Nora trying to sort out all her sister’s problems did become a bit repetitive after a while, but I thought the ending worked really well, and am looking forward to reading Emily Henry’s next book.