Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Book Review: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton.


Product details
Publisher: Fig Tree. 
Release date: October 15th 2020.
Hardcover, 336 pages. 
Rating: 3½ out of 5. 
Source: Received from publisher for review.

Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he's going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn't have come at a better time - her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone's moving to the suburbs. There's no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who's caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton's debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now. 


 Ghosts, the witty and whimsical debut novel from journalist Dolly Alderton, follows a year in the life of Nina Dean, a thirtysomething food writer, who is looking for love.

All of Nina’s friends are coupled-up and settling down. At 32 she’s one of one two singles in her friendship group, along with Lola, a ten-year-veteran of the online dating scene. Nina spent most of her twenties coupled-up with safe-but-boring Joe, until they mutually realised, as long-term couples often do, that they had firmly entered the friend zone. In the time since their split, Nina hasn’t dated anyone, Joe is soon to be married, and they remain firm friends.

With a happy home and work life in place, Nina is ready to re-enter the dating scene. And so she downloads an app.

Nina’s very first match is a guy called Max. Max is ruggedly handsome, charming in his way, and on their first date, he tells Nina he’s going to marry her (run, Nina, run!) Nina doesn’t run. Instead she finds herself falling fast for Max. Weeks turn to months, and then one night, Max tells Nina he loves her. The very next day he goes cold on her, taking hours to respond to her texts. Then one day, Max simply stops returning her calls. He won’t answer her texts either. He simply cuts off all contact. Over a few bottles of wine, Lola tells Nina she’s been ‘ghosted.’ She needs to move on with her life; forget about Max. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

Nina’s got bigger things to worry about than men that seemingly vanish into thin air. Namely her dad, whose memories are being consumed by dementia, making their relationship one where time is rapidly running out, and every time might be the last time. Secondary to this, Nina’s relationship with her one-time best friend Katherine has taken a hit since Katherine became a mum. Now their weekly catch-ups are about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. Simply put, at this point in their lives, Nina and Katherine have nothing in common. Nina thought that her friendship with Katherine was something she could rely on, a constant in her life. Now she’s not so sure. It’s seems like everyone is moving on, everyone except for Nina. Even Lola has a new boyfriend. And there’s still no sign of Max. The absence of Max in Nina’s life is really no loss. The men in this novel, it must be said, are all-round awful.

As a long-time reader of Dolly Alderton’s journalism, and a fan of her memoir Everything I Know About Love, I had high expectations for her debut novel. Maybe, in fact, I set my expectations too high.  Alderton stays firmly in familiar territory in Ghosts as she details the lives, loves and tribulations of online dating in your early thirties. Hen parties and weddings are covered in detail, as in her memoir, and female friendships factor hugely; female friendships and the dialogue surrounding them is something Alderton excels at, but I have to admit I was hoping for something new and different from Ghosts.

Despite my quibbles, I found Ghosts to be an overall enjoyable read, maybe not as standout as I was hoping for, but heart-warming and humorous in all the right places, nonetheless.

I look forward to reading whatever Dolly Alderton writes next.


Friday, 23 October 2020

Book Review: Breathless by Jennifer Niven.

 

Product details:
Publisher: Penguin.
Release date: September 29th 2020.
Paperback, 400 pages.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Ages: 14+
Source: Received from publisher for review.

The much anticipated new novel from international bestselling author Jennifer Niven, author of All the Bright Places.

You were my first. Not just sex, although that was part of it, but the first to look past everything else into me. Some of the names and places have been changed, but the story is true. It's all here because one day this will be the past, and I don't want to forget what I went through, what I thought, what I felt, who I was. I don't want to forget you. But most of all, I don't want to forget me.

For her last summer before college, Claudine Henry and her mother head to a remote island off the Georgia coast. There, amidst the wild beauty of the place, she meets the free spirited Jeremiah Crew. Their chemistry is immediate and irresistible, and even though they both know that whatever they have can only last the summer, maybe one summer is enough . . .
 


 A visceral coming-of-age tale, Breathless by Jennifer Niven is as raw and real, as hopeful and heart-breaking, as only first love can be.

Eighteen-year-old Claude Henry, commonly known as Claude, has got the summer before she leaves for college all worked out.  Plans include losing her virginity to her number one crush, Wyatt Jones, and embarking on a road trip with her best friend, Saz. However, as parents often do, Claude’s throw a spanner in her summer plans, when they announce that they are separating.

Instead of road-tripping with her best friend, Claude finds herself accompanying her mother on a work trip to a remote island off the Georgia coast; an island so remote that the Wi-Fi doesn’t work and cell-phone service is almost non-existent. Nightmare! Claude thinks she might just about die of boredom, but then one day she meets Jeremiah Crew – Miah to his friends – and suddenly summer stuck on a remote island doesn’t seem so bad.

Sparks fly between Miah and Claude from their very first meeting. Their physical attraction cannot be denied, and their subsequent relationship, which goes from zero to zoom in record time, reflects this.  Miah and Claude’s summer fling, it’s fair to say, is a sizzling hot romp when compared to the sweet slow-burn romances synonymous with many coming-of-age tales. No fading to black here, people.

Claude is consumed by thoughts of Miah; she’s distracted by him. He helps her forget about all the bad stuff that’s going on in her life - mainly that her dad seems to want out of their family unit. How do you deal with something like that? How do you come to terms with it? This is the summer when Claude grows up in more ways than one; it’s the summer she finds herself, loses herself in somebody else, comes to terms with her new reality, and looks to the future, a future without Miah because, though Claude loves Miah and the feeling is mutual, they both know that what they have can’t last. They have their own lives to lead; their own futures to build.

Breathless is bittersweet in the way that summer romances often are; burning bright under the summer sun and fading as the leaves turn golden-brown. It’s the natural order of things, and as such, Claude and Miah never really envisage a future together. Their time together on the island has a strict time-limit, making for a relationship that is intensely passionate and all-consuming. This passionate duo do make time for other things; adventuring and exploring, delving into Claude’s family history, and even finding time to hang out with some other friends, but these distractions eventually fade into the background, and in the end, all they see is each other.

Like all the very best summer romances, Jennifer Niven’s Breathless will sweep you off your feet and leave you wanting more. Honest, heartfelt, and sweetly seductive, this is a worthy addition to any ‘Summer Reads’ shelf.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Summer Shorts: The Weekend Away by Sarah Alderson, Two Truths and a Lie by Meg Mitchell Moore & Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough.





How well do you know your best friend?

Orla and Kate have been best friends forever. Former party girls who loved to dance till dawn, new mum Orla and newly single Kate, have drifted apart of late. However, if there’s one thing guaranteed to bring them back together, it’s their annual weekend away. This year, a trip to Lisbon is on the cards. While Orla is a little nervous to leave her baby for a whole weekend, she’s also looking forward to a weekend spent catching up with her best friend. Maybe they’ll even dance the night away. That’s something Orla hasn’t done in a while. As for Kate, glamorous as ever, she’s still the fun-time girl Orla knew way back when. And Kate is ready to party!

The morning after the night before, Orla awakes with the hangover from hell. There’s no sign of Kate. Nor is there any sign of the two very good-looking guys they brought back from the club. Ahem. Orla’s not sure what her husband would make of that particular detail. Not that anything untoward happened. At least she’s pretty sure. The truth is, though Orla doesn’t think she drank that much, details of her night out with Kate are hazy.

As the hours pass, and Kate doesn’t return, Orla starts to panic, convinced that something terrible has happened to her friend. Alone in a city she doesn’t know, she sets out to find Kate, but it seems as though her friend has vanished into thin air. Turns out, Kate has her secrets. Secrets that will shatter Orla’s world.  Did Orla ever really know her best friend at all?

Fast-paced, engaging, and a whole lot of fun, The Weekend Away is a great summer page-turner, with a twisty ending that will leave you wanting more. A winner!



Four Stars
Published July 23rd 2020 by Avon
Received for review

*****







Easy, breezy, and with a Mom Squad reminiscent of the Greek chorus in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, Meg Mitchell Moore’s Two Truths and a Lie is the perfect escapist summer read.

When Sherri Griffin arrives in the beachside town of Newburyport fresh from a divorce – at least that’s the official story – she’s not expecting to fit right in with the local Mom Squad. And she doesn’t. However, for the sake of her eleven year old daughter, Katie, Sherri has to make an effort with this close knit group of ladies who lunch, gossip and day-drink with abandon.

Once upon a time, Rebecca Coleman was all aboard the Mom Squad gossip train, but not so much these days. Ever since her husband died, eighteen months ago, Rebecca has been grieving. She’s also been spending time with a new man, but the Mom Squad does not need to know about that. Can you imagine the gossip? In any case, the Mom Squad is not paying attention to Rebecca, so distracted are they by the videos her seventeen-year-old daughter, Alexa, is uploading to YouTube. Of course, Rebecca knows nothing about her daughter’s online life.

When Alexa agrees to babysit Katie – the Mom Squad is in full agreement that Katie, at eleven, is too old for a sitter and that something must be going on – Rebecca and Sherri grow closer, Alexa discovers a dark secret, and a tragedy occurs in a summer that will change everything for one, possibly two, and maybe even all three, of these women.

If it’s pure summer escapism you’re looking for – with a dash of mystery and a smidge of bittersweet first love to boot– then Two Truths and a Lie is it. While the story doesn’t offer anything in the way of major surprises (except one!) it’s nonetheless an enjoyable summer read with which to soak up the sun.



3.5 Stars
Published June 16th 2020 by William Morrow
Received for review


*****






If you marry for money, you’ll earn every penny of it…

When down-on-her-luck waitress Marcie met successful attorney Jason Maddox, sparks flew. Feathers were ruffled when Jason divorced his first wife, but that’s all in the past, and Marcie is now happily ensconced as the second Mrs. Maddox. As such, Marcie enjoys all the trappings of the elite Savannah society to which Jason belongs. It’s five-star all the way for the former waitress from Boise, Idaho. Marcie may not have been ‘born to it’ and she knows the Savannah ‘old money’ set will always see her as an outsider, but she can live with that. The big house helps. As does the country club. Oh, and the endless shopping sprees – those help too.

At thirty-five, Marcie is a good deal younger and more glamorous than the botoxed-to-the-eyeballs first-wives in her set, and so when Jason’s boss, the recently-widowed William, returns from a trip to Europe with a much younger second-wife in tow, Marcie is less than pleased. At twenty-two, Keisha, an obvious gold-digger, is not only younger than Marcie, she’s more beautiful too. And ever since she arrived in town, Keisha has been flirting up a storm with Marcie’s husband, Jason…

There may be trouble ahead.

If you’re a regular reader of Sarah Pinborough’s novels, then you’ll know to expect the unexpected. That’s certainly the case with Dead to Her, which might seem like a delicious summer thriller of errant husbands and warring wives, but is actually deeper, darker, and far deadlier than that. Dead to Her is wicked with a twist – and a whole lot of strange. If you liked Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, you’ll enjoy this.




3.5 Stars
Published August 6th 2020 by HarperCollins
Received for review


Monday, 6 July 2020

Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo.




Product details:
Publisher: W&N.
Hardcover, 544 pages.
Release date: June 27th 2019.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Purchased.


A multigenerational novel in which the four adult daughters of a Chicago couple—still madly in love after forty years—recklessly ignite old rivalries until a long-buried secret threatens to shatter the lives they've built.


When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that's to come. By 2016, their four radically different daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy, widowed young, soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet, a litigator-turned-stay-at-home-mom, battles anxiety and self-doubt when the darkest part of her past resurfaces; Liza, a neurotic and newly tenured professor, finds herself pregnant with a baby she's not sure she wants by a man she's not sure she loves; and Grace, the dawdling youngest daughter, begins living a lie that no one in her family even suspects. Above it all, the daughters share the lingering fear that they will never find a love quite like their parents'.


As the novel moves through the tumultuous year following the arrival of Jonah Bendt—given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption fifteen years before—we are shown the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past: years marred by adolescence, infidelity, and resentment, but also the transcendent moments of joy that make everything else worthwhile.



A multigenerational novel spanning forty years, Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had, is a perfectly observed commentary on the trivialities and complexities of family life. Inviting us into the heart of the Sorensen family, the still-happily-married-even-after-all-these-years David and Marilyn, and their four adult daughters, The Most Fun We Ever Had details the highs, lows, loves and losses that comprise everyday family life.

Few people experience the kind of love shared by David and Marilyn Sorensen. While many marriages wilt and wither with time, the same can’t be said for David and Marilyn, whose love still blossoms and blooms as the years go by. We first meet these lovebirds eyes locked, limbs entwined, at the wedding of their eldest daughter, Wendy. Wendy has married rich, and that’s a relief, since left to her own devices, Wendy is an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.

Sixteen years on, Wendy is windowed, bored, and about to foist the mother of all surprises on her sister, Violet. Irish twins, born less than a year apart, Wendy and Violet were once closer than close, but are now less so. Former litigator Violet, now a stay-at-home mom to two young boys, doesn’t really have time for boozy lunches with her older sister, but when Wendy calls, Violet does her duty and shows up. It’s the least she can do after all Wendy has been through. However, Violet did not anticipate that Wendy would invite Jonah, the son Violet gave up for adoption fifteen years previously, along to their lunch. Nobody knows about Jonah. Not even Violet’s parents.  Especially not them. Why would Wendy try to ruin her life like this?

Third daughter Liza is winning at life. Or so her everybody thinks. A newly tenured professor, Liza is a certified success. She should be on top of the world. Only she’s not. Her long-term relationship is on life-support and she’s just discovered she’s pregnant, an Oops! baby if ever there was one. It’s all too much for Liza, who instead of dealing with her problems, instead decides to embark on an affair with a colleague. Because that’ll fix things. 

At least David and Marilyn can rely on their youngest daughter, Grace, to never cause them any worry. Born a whole nine years after Liza, sweet-natured Grace is doted on and indulged by her loving parents, to whom she’ll always be the baby. Too bad then that loving, uncomplicated Grace has been lying to her parents this whole time…

Along with detailing the various crises of the Sorensen daughters, The Most Fun We Ever Had also rewinds to the early days of David and Marilyn’s relationship as it details the events that brought them together and one time almost split them apart. Personally, I could take or leave some of the Sorensen girls; Violet is unlikeable, especially in dealings with Jonah, who is otherwise welcomed with open arms into the Sorensen fold, while Grace is wishy-washy. Wendy, though, quick-witted, spiteful, and in favour of a mid-morning gin, I loved. Also, Wendy’s story is the most compelling here touched, as she is, more than once by tragedy. 

If you enjoy a good family saga – and especially if you grew up with sisters – The Most Fun We Ever Had is a worthy addition to your book pile. It is lengthy at 500+ pages and a little wordy at times, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable, heart-warming, wonderfully observed read. It’s a book I think will transfer well to screen, and I’m excited for the soon-to-be HBO adaptation, to which Amy Adams and Laura Dern are attached.

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