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This is an audiobook narrated by Patience Tomlinson.

Siblings Robert (62) and Phoebe (60) are concerned about their 85 year old father James. After a fall renders the upstairs of his house out of bounds to him, they decide they need to hire a carer for him. After a few carers come and go for various reasons, they hire Mandy – hard-working, down to earth and plain speaking (sometimes too much so). Although Mandy’s outdated and somewhat questionable views are completely at odds with those of their father, Robert and Phoebe are grateful to her for her hard work, and pleased that Mandy and James seem to hit it off, with her presence lending him a new lease of life. But then they start to get jealous of her, and suspicious of her motives. Why is she going through their father’s private papers. And why did a previous client of hers leave her a flat in his Will? Is there more to Mandy than meets the eye?

I have mixed feelings about this book. First the narration – no complaints there; Patience Tomlinson did a great job with all characters. The first part of the book – with alternating chapters told from the points of view of Phoebe and Robert – was enjoyable with some amusing moments, and some believable insights into their situation, watching their once distinguished father grow older and frailer, and seeing him much closer to his carer than he often was with them when they were growing up. There is a twist which I genuinely did not see coming, but which set up the change of direction and narrative for the next part of the book, which is told from the points of view of James and other characters (unnamed here for fear of spoilers). I did not enjoy this part of the book anywhere near as much as the first part, and the conclusion when it came was something of an anti-climax.

I don’t doubt that Deborah Moggach can write believable scenarios and characters, and her prose is very engaging but I did feel a slight dissatisfaction with this book in the end. However, I would certainly try something else by this author.

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I listened to this audiobook, very well narrated by Emma Spurgin Hussey, over a few days. After a brief opening chapter by an unnamed character (all is revealed later), the story properly starts with a young woman named Vicky – who also narrates the story – going to Corfu after graduation, and deciding to stay there. She loses touch with her mother, with whom she has had a fractious relationship ever since her mother remarried and had children with her second husband. In Corfu she meets the charismatic William and falls madly in love. Before long their son comes along. But when real life and big responsibilities kick in, the bliss fades from their relationship and Vicky makes a shocking decision.

At this point the story switches abruptly to narration by a lady named Caro, who runs a holiday cottage business on a farm with her husband Gilbert and their son Fergus. She has a daughter named India, but there is clearly friction between India and her parents. I’m wary of giving away too much of the story, so I’ll just say that Vicky’s and Caro’s stories do converge, and their individual histories come to have great bearing on their current lives, and both end up fighting for their own families.

I actually really enjoyed this book. I definitely did not like all of the characters; Barbara was an awful woman, although not entirely unbelievable. I also intensely disliked India and really wanted to have someone give her some home truths. However, I loved Caro and Fergus, and felt for Vicky.

The ending was very good as it gave closure, but resisted tying everything up in a neat bow; I was expecting something different, and was pleasantly surprised.

If you like human dramas, I’d recommend giving this one a try.

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Chef, written by, directed by and starring Jon Favreau, is the kind of movie you need to watch if either (a) you’re a foodie, (b) you need a feel-good funny movie, or (c) both.

Favreau is Carl Casper, chef at a prestigious restaurant, has a public meltdown after a restaurant critic writes a savage review of his food, and quits his job. Initially bereft, he buys a food truck and travels through (part of) America, providing the opportunity for  himself to get back to cooking creatively and to reconnect with his son.

It sometimes teeters on the edge of over-sentimentality, but never quite tips over. I loved the energy and colour. Carl is likeable even when he isn’t, thanks to Favreau’s geniality. A great supporting cast – Sofia Vergara as Carl’s ex-wife Inez, Emjay Anthony as his son Percy, and a brilliant turn from the fabulous John Leguizamo as Carl’s best friend Martin – add to the enjoyment. Also, watch out for a very funny turn from Robert Downey Jr.

My one slight criticism of Chef is that it may be slightly over-long. But it’s always enjoyable and good fun, and I highly recommend it.

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The Thorn Birds has been on my tbr shelf (I laughingly refer to it as a shelf as if there aren’t that many books I have not yet read – ha!) for about six years. It’s not generally the kind of book I go in for, but I bought it for some reason – I have a feeling my aunt recommended it – and just occasionally I like to get caught up in a sweeping saga, so in search of some escapism (at the time of writing, most of the world is on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic) I decided this might do the trick.

Pretty much all I knew about The Thorn Birds prior to reading was that there was a tv series adaptation in the 1980, starring Richard Chamberlain; I knew it was about the love between a woman and a Catholic Priest, and apparently it was extremely scandalous!! With this in mind, the book turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I was expecting a love story but this is more of a family saga, concentrating on three generations of the Cleary family. It takes place from the early to mid/late 20th century on a homestead in Australia (mainly) and at the centre of it is Father Ralph De Briccassart and his love for Meggie Cleary. It starts as a paternal type of love as Meggie is only a child when they first meet, and Ralph is a young priest, but as she grows older, their love becomes more – but Ralph’s vocation is always between them.

A lot of the book is given over to other characters – in the beginning, Meggie’s brothers and parents; and later on the net generation of the family, Justine and Dane. The hardships and realities of running a sheep station in Australia.

I did more or less enjoy the book – clearly it was well researched and it did hold my attention for the most part. However, I did not particularly warm to Meggie and I certainly didn’t like Ralph, who seemed particularly mercenary and manipulative. Nonetheless, I am glad I read it although it wouldn’t be a story I would probably want to reread at any point.

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I listened to this audiobook while out running (not in one go, that would have been a LONG run!) and I realised something about the difference in enjoyment for me between physical books and audiobooks. When I’m reading a physical book, I want to be absorbed and completely drawn into it – for me, chicklit does not really do this, because it’s so easy to predict what’s going to happen. But when I’m out running, I just want something to distract me, something to occupy my mind. It doesn’t need to be *too* absorbing – it’s doing the same job as listening to music or podcasts does for others. So I enjoyed this book a lot, while acknowledging that if I was reading a physical copy I would not have liked it half as much.

Sophie Mayhew is married to John, a conservative government minister who is widely expected to be the next prime minister. Known in the papers as ‘Sophie the trophy’, her role is to basically look good on her husband’s arms and support him in all he does. It’s a job she does very well – until a story breaks about an affair her husband has had, and she  *doesn’t* toe the line. Instead she tells the papers precisely what she thinks about her husband’s behaviour and decides she needs time to herself. She ends up in the small Yorkshire village of Little Lost, near where she went to school. There, she finds friendship, acceptance and peace. She befriends Tracey, the local publican, who helps her out with somewhere to stay – and Tracey’s brother Elliot, the handsome local vicar, who sets all the local womens’ hearts racing. As Sophie grows closer to Tracey, Elliot and his little boy Luke, she starts to wish she didn’t have to go back to her old life. But reality is calling – will she answer?

Okay. So it’s chicklit, and that means you can probably guess what happens at the end from the scenario above. But getting there is great fun and there are plenty of other parts to this story, which as Tracey’s love life and Elliot’s estranged wife. I liked hearing about Little Lost and enjoyed the way that life in a small village was portrayed, with everyone pulling together and looking out for each other.

John and his family, as well as Sophie’s own family, were with one exception, all horrible. Selfish, critical and arrogant – I can’t believe that she didn’t walk out years earlier!

If you like chicklit, I would recommend this book. For me, the audiobook was extremely well narrated by Coleen Prendergast, who had a voice that perfectly fitted the story (I’m not surprised to learn that she has narrated the audio versions of Johnson’s other books too).

Overall, it’s not really my genre, but it’s one of the best in it’s own genre, and gets a good rating from me.

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A serial killer is terrorising the small Spanish village of Elizondo, targeting young girls. Inspector Amaia Salazar heads up the investigation, and returns to Elizondo where she grew up. People there are superstitious and believe that there are evil forces at work, and additionally Amaia has to deal with difficult childhood memories, and an uneasy relationship with her sister Flora.

I really enjoyed this book, although there was a lot going on – possibly a little too much – but somehow it worked. It was originally published in Spanish and I find that translations can sometimes feel a bit clunky; however, that was not the case here. Apart from the Basque setting, and the Spanish characters, you would not know that this was a translation. I liked Amaia a lot and thought she was a good main character. The mystery itself did get a bit convoluted, but not so much so that I couldn’t follow it easily. I enjoyed reading about the superstitious nature of the small village, and thought it was an interesting setting.

If you like crime fiction and enjoy an unusual setting, give this one a try – you could well enjoy it.

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From the cover and title of this book, you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a light hearted comedy, or an undemanding chicklit novel. But it’s neither of those things. This is the story of Jean Collins, who is in a coma after having been knocked down while crossing the road. Her daughter Anne, who has always had an uneasy relationship with her mother, and is now married to a selfish husband and has two – frankly horrible -teenage sons, travels to be with her mother in the hospital.

Narrated in alternating chapters by Jean and Anne (with the very occasional chapter narrated by other characters) this tells the story of their family history, which contains secrets and tragedy which they have not addressed for years. Both mother and daughter hold guilt about the past, and through their memories, the reader pieces together the truth about a mystery which has created a hole in their lives and their hearts.

I really enjoyed this book, even though it is not always an enjoyable read. The characters have had a lot of heartache in their lives, and it is clear that they have not properly dealt with it before now. Both Anne and Jean are very believable and real characters – both basically good people, but deeply flawed and certainly not always likeable.

Jenny Eclair is very talented to have written such an easy to read (the writing flows beautifully) book, while at the same time handling some very tough and delicate subjects. I had one, and only one, slight niggle and that is that near to the very end, there is a almighty coincidence, which I feel was very unfeasible. But I’m just nitpicking with that. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book.

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Emma George has a job in TV, which is less exciting than it sounds, and a long term boyfriend Ned, who is less reliable than a boyfriend should be. And then she finds herself accidentally pregnant in the same week that she loses her job, and breaks up with Ned.

She is lucky enough to inherit a cottage and find temporary work, and an accidental lodger, but she still realises that soon she is going to be wholly responsible for another person, and things are going to have to change…

SPOILERS CONTAINED BELOW!!

I listened to the audiobook of this novel, narrated by Rosie Jones. I would have to say that the narration was excellent; unfortunately that’s the only thing that I *can* say was excellent. My main issue is that clearly the reader/listener is supposed to identify with Emma and root for her, and…well, she is just a terribly selfish, judgemental and spiteful human being. Horrible human beings can make for interesting main characters but the reader/listener is supposed to be well aware that they are horrible characters; we are not supposed to be expected to support their behaviour!

This started out quite amusing in parts, but what ruined it for me was when Emma constantly fat-shamed another character. Martha’s size and eating habits were completely irrelevant to the story, yet literally every sentence that mentioned her (and there were a LOT) made an unkind reference to the character’s weight. Furthermore, when Martha correctly chastised Emma for not doing her job properly, Emma videoed Martha after she had had sex with someone, and then blackmailed her with the footage top stop Martha reporting Emma’s behaviour. And we were supposed to think this was hilarious!

Additionally, Ned was just the most feckless and unreliable boyfriend, who stole Emma’s money after sponging off her for years, had not contributed any money towards rent or living costs, and preferred dreaming up ultimately unsuccessful get-rich-schemes with his mate. When one such scheme accidentally works out, all of a sudden Ned is painted as a wonderful character and an example to us all not to give up on your dreams.

I listened to the end, because I was too far in to give up before I realised what a truly selfish character Emma was and because of the narration. However, although I would certainly listen to more books narrated by Rosie Jones, I won’t be checking out any more books written by this author.

 

 

 

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Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway is down on her luck, completely alone in the world and in debt to some very dangerous people. So when she gets a solicitor’s letter telling her that her grandmother has died, and she is due an inheritance, it seems as though she might have found the answers to her problems. There’s just one hitch – Hal’s grandparents all died years ago, so who on earth is this lady who has named Hal in her Will?

Hal knows she shouldn’t take the money – but the Westaway family are rich and can afford it. And with her job as a tarot card reader, she is used to making people think what she wants them to think, so if anybody can pull off the deception required to get the inheritance, it’s Hal.

She travels to Trepassen House, the home of Mrs Westaway and meets the family, who are shocked to meet a ‘niece’ they never knew they had but largely welcome her into the fold – all except for the housekeeper Mrs Warren, who is intent on driving Hal out. But as she gets to know the family, it is clear that there are dangerous secrets lurking below the surface, and Hal may be in danger…

I listened to his audiobook, which is narrated by Imogen Church. Unfortunately some of the narrative style irritated me. The weird emphasis on certain words was off-putting, although I did grow more used to it after a while. Her attempt at posh male voices though was really annoying, and unfortunately the three brothers in the family all ended up sounded too similar.

I do think the premise of the book is really interesting and while I guessed part of the ending fairly early on, there was one twist which really threw me and I didn’t get even the slightest hint of it.

That said though, this book could really have done with some tight editing. It just seemed to take so long and so many unnecessary words to describe every situation. And metaphors – metaphors everywhere. “She looked into his eyes and it was like falling into a dark, leaf strewn pond.” I mean, come on!! The story could have been told in half the time if all the unnecessary sentences had been cut and the author had just got to the point!

So, yeah not a hit for me. It wasn’t awful and it did hold my attention enough to keep me listening to the end, but I can’t say I wasn’t glad when it was finished.

 

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The Van Meter family are gathering at their New England island holiday home to celebrate the wedding of oldest daughter Daphne. Patriarch Winn Van Meter should be looking forward to a joyous weekend, but he is facing it all with a kind of dread. He feels age creeping up on him; discontented with his life, and harbouring a lust for an entirely inappropriate woman, the scene is set for a disastrous couple of days. Meanwhile his youngest daughter Livia is recovering after a relationship break-up, his wife Biddy is patiently trying to ignore her husband’s erratic behaviour – and just why won’t the Pequot gentlemans’ club accept him as a member?!

I am in two minds about this book. The things I liked were: Maggie Shipstead’s turn of phrase. She has an amusingly cynical turn of phrase which made me smile in places at the absurdity of the situations. And…nope, that’s actually about all I liked.

What I didn’t like was almost all of the characters. It’s not necessary for me to like a character in order to enjoy a book, but there has to be something about them that makes me want to read about them – if not likeable, then they should be interesting. This book is told mostly from Winn’s point of view (albeit in the third person) and quite frankly he is not likeable, not interesting and ultimately pretty pathetic. I don’t think he is meant to be a likeable character, but I don’t know whether he is meant to be quite so exasperating. I am not sure in fact why anyone in his family puts up with him; he’s basically a privileged, narrow minded, self-centred egotist, complaining about how hard done to he is. Nothing is his fault, it’s always someone else to blame.

Livia was probably the second most prominent character and she wasn’t much better, although her youth and heartbreak excuse her somewhat. Unfortunately the most likeable characters – Dominique, Greyson and Biddy – are never really explored, because they are the most level headed and decent among the party, and this book is not about level headed decent people!

I realise it’s meant to be satire, but despite the eloquence of the writing, it’s not really funny enough to work. It’s not awful – it certainly held my attention – but it’s just…meh! While I realise that money and privilege does not preclude people from being depressed and unhappy, the things that were causing Winn to be miserable were so ridiculous it was just hard to feel any sympathy at all. I can see that some people might love this book – regrettably I’m not one of them.

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