It Felt Like A Kiss – Sarra Manning

Date read: 26th January 2014
Publisher: Random House UK
Release Date: 30th January 2014
Length: 570 pages
Format: E-book
Source: I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

It Felt Like A Kiss

Goodreads description

Meet Ellie Cohen, one of the most perfect girls in London.

Ellie manages a swank Mayfair gallery, but it’s her life that’s a real work of art. Great job, really good hair, loyal friends, loving family. It’s only her succession of lame duck boyfriends that ruin the picture.

Oh, and the world-famous rock-star father she’s never met, who won’t even acknowledge her existence.

Then Ellie’s perfect life is smashed to pieces when her secret is sold to the highest bidder and her name, face (and pictures of her bottom) are splashed across the tabloids. Suddenly everyone thinks she’s a gold-digging, sex-crazy, famewhore.

Enter David Gold. Charming and handsome David Gold. On paper he’s even more perfect than Ellie, if only he wasn’t her father’s ruthlessly ambitious lawyer whose job is to manage the crisis – and her. He certainly doesn’t think that Ellie’s the innocent party and she doesn’t trust him at all. So why is it that every time they’re alone together, damage limitation is the last thing on their minds?

My review

Oh, Sarra Manning, how I love you and your writing. Ever since reading the Diary of a Crush columns in the back of my J17 magazines in secondary school, I’ve sought out her writing, whether it’s young adult or contemporary romance. Something about it, in much the same way as Jennifer Crusie’s writing, speaks to me, and keeps me reading when I should be doing other things. Like cooking. Or cleaning. You know, the optional things in life.

I need to read this book again – work last week was rather stressful, hence it took me about a week to read It Felt Like A Kiss, which I don’t think did it any favours as I never gave myself a chance to get swept away and to love Ellie and David. I really didn’t get to grips with why David was able to completely shut the part of himself off that had feelings for Ellie when dealing with the crisis, and also why his relationship with his parents was ignored after Ellie meeting them in less than ideal circumstances. However, his first meeting with Ellie? I loved it. I loved the whole section set in Glastonbury – I definitely want to stay in a luxury yurt – I don’t do camping (nowhere to plug the hair straighteners).

Although I didn’t like all the characters – see below for more – I thought they were all well-drawn and distinct from one another. I have a pet peeve about side characters, namely that a lot of authors seem to focus only on their main characters and then the friends, family etc get shunted aside and given only one characteristic to define them – e.g. ‘Emma worries about her weight’, ‘Jeff likes computer games’ etc. I like the world to which I’ve given myself to have characters that are more than a cardboard cut out of what someone thinks the zany ‘friend’ character should be, and It Felt Like A Kiss definitely has that. Although there are characters who, in theory, should be vastly annoying (in particular, Ellie’s co-workers at the gallery) – somehow they’re real, even though we don’t spend too much time with them in the novel. And the fact that I can’t identify how Manning does this is a good thing, as it means it’s done subtly yet well!

I didn’t find the main character Ellie the most likeable of characters – but I need to take a step back here and say that I think this is coming from my personal circumstances more than the way the character is written. I have the unfortunate pleasure of being in a very similar situation (without, thankfully, being outed in the tabloids and having pictures of my bum splashed across websites. Nobody wants to see that. And my dad’s not a rock star).

But I have been the secret daughter. And my reactions to the situation I found myself in diverge from Ellie’s quite dramatically. I love Ellie and Ari’s attitude of ‘us against the world’ (I love Ari full stop. She’s an awesome mum, and the team of her, Chester, Tom and Tabitha bringing up a child sounds pretty close to perfect) but I don’t agree with some of the choices Ellie makes, or her attitude at times, because they’re not the choices I would have made. I won’t go into too much detail, as I’m thinking about things that happen towards the end of the book and I don’t want to give anything away. But I want to stress that how I feel has absolutely nothing to do with Sarra’s writing – it’s because I’m too close to the situation and need to read the book again to take a step back and look at it with a more objective perspective, not to think “Well, I wouldn’t have done that” at various stages.

I have to say, I loved the fact that a couple of characters from Manning’s previous books make appearances – I won’t say who, for fear of spoilers! But I really appreciated the mentions 🙂

It Felt Like A Kiss ended a bit abruptly for my liking, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Grace and David make another appearance in a future Sarra Manning novel.

A Book From The Shelf – Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

Date read: 20th January 2014
Publisher: St Martins Paperbacks
Release Date: August 31st 2004
Length: 390 pages
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased from Murder #1 (sadly no longer with us)

Bet Me image

Goodreads description

Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. Even if she does wear great shoes and keeps him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon, they’re dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme donuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all–true love.

My review

Oh, my goodness. There is a good reason I have read this book five times and why it holds a firm position on my Top 10 Books list. It’s just about perfect.

Larger lady meets All-American man should be the most predictable book on the shelf. And nothing earthshattering happens within the pages of Bet Me – but everything that does happen… happens so well.

Min is angry at the world after her safe boyfriend David dumps her because she won’t sleep with him – three weeks before her sister’s wedding, to which she has promised to bring a date. After hearing Cal make a bet with said idiot David that Cal could get Min to sleep with him within a month, Min decides to play him at his own game to secure a date to the wedding. But neither of them actually bet on liking the other…

Take this quote as an example of the writing:

David opened his mouth and closed it again. “Well, of course. I don’t want you to think this is a reflection on you. You’re intelligent, you’re successful, you’re mature…”

Min listened, knowing that You’re beautiful, You’re thin were not coming. If only he’d have a heart attack. Only four percent of heart attacks in men happened before forty, but it could happen. And if he died, not even her mother could expect her to bring him to the wedding.

Cal helps Min to make the perfect chicken marsala, and feeds her Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Min befriends Cal’s nephew Harry, and defends Cal against his ice-cold family. And in the middle of this, they fall in love. But what about the pesky bet?

The minor characters – no, I can’t describe them as minor, because they’re so beautifully portrayed. Fearsome Liza, who will defend Min against Cal ‘the beast’, to the point of hitting him with her handbag at inopportune moments, and dreamy Bonnie, who’s certain that she’s found the love of her life. And Cal’s friends Tony, who’s much smarter than he seems, and Roger, who’s solid yet certain. Even Min’s sister Diana and her own two friends leap off the page without taking focus off the couple at the centre of the fairy tale. And so what if the story sounds ridiculous in my review? Read it and you won’t be disappointed. The ending moves so quickly, and is hilarious yet poignant – it gives hope to us all!

I love Jennifer Crusie’s contemporary romances simply because she knows how to write people. Every conversation sounds like one I would have, or would like an improved version of me to have. She’s definitely an auto-buy author, and I wish she’d write more!

The perfect January read and, as I mentioned above, one of my favourites of all time.

The Future Homemakers of America – Laurie Graham

Date read: 15th January 2014
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: 1st October 2002
Length: 380 pages
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased from Waterstones
Future Homemakers cover

Goodreads description

In the tradition of “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, ” this moving novel, filled with warmth, wit, and wisdom, is about a group of women who discover–over the course of 40 turbulent years–the nature of true friendship.

My review

Periodically (though not as often as I’d like), I go to a bigger library than the tiny one near my old workplace. My favourite local library is in Taunton, a town I lived in for two years and is now 25 miles away from my home. I manage to combine a visit to my two best friends who still live there with an hour or two wandering the shelves and usually picking up books I didn’t intend on reading.

This semi-tradition is how the above book crossed my path. I’ve read a couple of books by Laurie Graham before – I think I read The Unfortunates a very very long time ago, and I read Gone With The Windsors last year as part of another library book binge. The description on the back cover – incidentally, a lot more descriptive than the Goodreads description – made it sound right up my alley, and although I put a few other library books higher on my to-read list, I settled on it over the weekend just gone.

The story focuses on five women who are all married to members of the US Air Force stationed at the same base in Norfolk. They cross the path of one Kath Pharaoh, a local woman who lives in very different circumstances to their relative splendour, and mainly through the efforts of the narrator Peggy, stay in touch through the next forty or so years, although it’s made clear pretty early on that the six of them never reunite at the same time.

The story itself is interesting – Peggy goes from a housewife to the owner of a wedding-planning company (although not without some bumps along the way), the slightly dippy character Betty becomes a high-flying saleswoman of weight-loss products, all the while giving her grandchildren the majority of her attention, poor Gayle lurches from calamity to calamity before finding some sort of peace, Audrey ends up back in England after her husband dies in unfortunate circumstances, and Lois’s indiscretions in England haunt her (although she doesn’t realise to what extent until the very end of the book). Each character is well-written, and the first person narrative means that we see a very particular view of them through Peggy’s well-meaning yet sometimes ascerbic eyes. Even the peripheral characters are believable which is impressive given the relative lack of time we get to spend with them before the focus switches to someone else.

The fact that the book covers an awful lot of time, added to the relatively short length, means that quite a lot is skimmed over – Peggy’s daughter seems to age awfully quickly, but thinking about it now the speeding up of time probably reflects the way that all of us know that time goes quicker as you get older – remember how long the six weeks summer holiday seemed when we were in primary school, compared to six weeks now? And I found myself getting more drawn in once the action had left the UK and the six women were spread across the two continents.

Men aren’t treated particularly well in this book – the only decent men end up cuckolded, widowed or dead, so far as I can see, apart from Peggy’s employee Grice who has a gentleman friend called Tucker (whose mother has a perfect recipe for tomato sandwiches and calls Peggy gauche). He is in Peggy’s life throughout the latter half of the book and is a good friend to her, despite Peggy’s either wilful or naïve blindness as to his relationship with Tucker.

I enjoyed reading this book but I would have to say the characters haven’t really stayed with me, which is the mark of a good read so far as I’m concerned… I would however read more books by Laurie Graham as she chooses the most interesting premises for her books (the best friend of Wallis Simpson!!) but I would probably borrow them from the library as I would only want to read them once.

Penelope – Rebecca Harrington

Date read: 9th January 2014
Publisher: Virago
Release Date: 7th August 2012 (US), July 2013 (UK)
Length: 302 pages
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased from Waterstones

Penelope - front cover

Goodreads description

When Penelope O’Shaunessy, “an incoming freshman of average height and lank hair” steps into Harvard Yard for the first time she has lots of advice from her mother: “Don’t be too enthusiastic, don’t talk to people who seem to be getting annoyed, and for heaven’s sake, stop playing Tetris on your phone at parties.” Penelope needs this advice. She is the kind of girl who passes through much of her life with coffee spilled on her white shirt, who can’t quite tell when people are joking, and who, inevitably, always says the wrong thing. But no amount of coaching will prepare Penelope for the people she meets at school.

Gloriously skewering the social hierarchy of college, Penelope is the brilliantly funny story of one of the most singular, memorable heroines in recent fiction.

My review:

I was so excited to read this book – I had heard nothing about it until I happened to see it displayed in the Book Club section of Waterstones. I liked the look of the cover, really really liked the sound of the blurb, so picked it up along with a couple of others, and it languished on my bookshelf until I picked up as part of my ‘I must read books that I’ve had for ages otherwise I will never read them, ever’ resolution. I really wish that I had read it when it was the book club selection in Waterstones as I think the discussion would have been a fascinating one.

I can’t quite work out if the book is meant to be satirical – if it is, then it’s so subtle as to be nearly invisible, and if it’s not, then I don’t quite grasp what Harrington wanted her book to be.

Penelope is one of the most annoying heroines I’ve ever come across in reading – I want to describe her as quirky but that doesn’t quite bring across her personality – to me, the word quirky brings up an image of some sort of manic pixie dream girl, and Penelope is about as far away from that as it’s possible to get. The way she and her friends speak isn’t the way I imagine any college freshman to speak – I know it’s ten years since I was a freshman, but I’m pretty sure 18 year olds still use contractions in their sentences, and don’t say things like:

“It seemed like a really toothy kiss”, continued Ted, indefatigable in the cause of truth, because of objectivism. “Was it?”

“It was on the toothy side,” said Penelope. “I think. That point of the night is rather hazy to me. I think I blocked it out.”

There are no likeable characters in this book. At ALL. But the way the book is written suggests to me that this was meant to be the case and they were all deliberately insufferable… In which case, why read it? I don’t know. I certainly don’t know why I finished it.

Comparisons to Prep are moot – I thought that as a literary novel about education the two would have a certain amount of crossover, but that wasn’t my experience. I guess that in Prep none of the characters were particularly likeable, but the difference is that I actually cared about their fates, and the book was genuinely well-written. I refuse to take this book seriously when the ostensible love-interest is a German-Argentinean, British-educated, guy named Gustav, who gets his own suite in Harvard as he has never been immunised against disease, and says things like:

“An arboretum, darling, is a collection of trees…I have no great truck in the thing myself, but Harvard has one, and my family supports it rather extensively. Once a year or so, I go out there and check how everything is doing… we do help everything stay tip-top. You should see the state of other arboretums. None of them has wheelbarrows decorated with a crest. Or a twenty-four hour hotline for plant identification.”

Gustav also jets off to Japan or skiing for weeks at a time. And recites limericks at parties. Of course he does.

I will not be re-reading this book. That’s not to say that I have anything against satire, but I at least like to know when I’m reading it, and for it to make me care enough to read it, rather than want to throw the book against the wall. Grr.

Once in a Lifetime – Jill Shalvis

Date read: 4th January 2014
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: 18th February 2014
Length: 368 pages
Format: E-book
Source: I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review

Once in a Lifetime cover

Goodreads description

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis continues with the ninth installment in her beloved Lucky Harbor series.

SOMETIMES WRONG IS OH-SO-RIGHT

After a wrenching loss, Ben McDaniel tried to escape his grief by working in dangerous, war-torn places like Africa and the Middle East. Now he’s back in his hometown and face-to-face with Aubrey Wellington, the hot-as-hell woman who is trouble with a capital T. Family and friends insist she’s not the one to ease his pain, but Aubrey sparks an intense desire that gives Ben hope for the future.

Determined to right the wrongs of her past, Aubrey is working hard to make amends. But by far, the toughest challenge to her plan is sexy, brooding Ben – even though he has absolutely no idea what she’s done . . .

Can this unlikely couple defy the odds and win over the little town of Lucky Harbor?

My review:

This book is the ninth in Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor series. I’ve read the first (Simply Irresistible) and the fifth (At Last), but you don’t need to have read the series in order to enjoy the books. There are a few mentions as to previous characters in the first book (and by extension, the second and third, given that they revolve around the same characters – I didn’t spot any references to the fourth, fifth and sixth but may well have missed them.

There was one universal truth in Lucky Harbor, Washington – you could hide a pot of gold in broad daylight and no one would steal it, but you couldn’t hide a secret

The first thing I’d like to emphasise is that I love the world of Lucky Harbor. I pine for living in a town like it, even with its propensity to gossip first, think later. The combination of beach and mountains sounds just about perfect to me, and with its newly revamped bookstore and seemingly unending parade of gorgeous men, what more could a girl need?

It was so easy to sympathise with our main characters, Aubrey and Ben. Shalvis does a clever job of building their relationship, from antagonism, to wary friendship, to a hell of a lot more. I did think that Aubrey beat herself up a lot about her past, but the idea of making a list and making amends with everyone whom she’d wronged was the centrepiece of this story, along with her refurbishment of her aunt’s bookstore, and the road was certainly rocky along the way. And Ben was such a well-rounded character, still in the process of getting over his wife’s death, and learning to accept falling for someone else – put like that it sounds like a bad cliché, but somehow it never felt like that – all his deliberations and hard-headedness never felt unnatural, as the below quote hopefully displays:

He hadn’t always been like that. In school, he’d been the first to land himself in trouble, but he’d been fun-seekind, not tough as nails and impenetrable. Even through college. Afterward, he’d been an engineer for the city and had led a nice normal life. Then his wife had died, and he’d taken off like a bat out of hell, living a life of adrenaline and danger as if survivor’s guilt had driven his every move.

And do not even get me started on the wondrousness that is the minor characters – although I hate to call them that, as they feel like so much more than that. Pink and Kendra, two five-year-old twins that Ben takes under his wing. Lucille, the town busy-body. Carla, Aubrey’s sister (I definitely think she may be a candidate for a further book…). Dee, Ben’s aunt, and her unasked for hugs and breakfast. Sue, the cranky judge who was the victim of Aubrey’s…Aubrey-ness during high school. Yes, Lucky Harbor is a splendid world indeed, and I just may have reserved the other books in the series from the library… *innocent face*

My year in numbers

When I was younger, my cousins all thought I would grow up to work with numbers… I was a bit of a geek and used to pick shares out of the newspaper and track their progress (because obviously, all seven year olds would like to be stockbrokers.  Hmm).  However, my talents are decidedly un-mathematical.

I’ve still always kept a note of the books I’ve read through the years… Unfortunately the first couple of notebooks went astray in a house move a few years ago, but I have two notebooks detailing all the books I’ve read since the last year of university.

There was the year I decided only to read books which I’d never read before… As a voracious re-reader, this was torture!  I had to only keep new-to-me books on my bookshelves so that I couldn’t see the old favourites beckoning me home.  I think the first ten books I read the next year were all books I’d read and cherished previously because I’d missed them so much.

In 2013 I read 177 books.  This was amazing for me, especially considering that I moved to work in a different store in June and lost the built in 90-minutes daily commute.  The morning journey wasn’t so brilliant for reading, considering I would put my iPod on and watch the world go by until I became something vaguely like awake, but the evening journey was perfect for reading a chunk of whatever book I had on the go at the time.  Thinking about it, finishing at 4 most days gave me a much bigger chunk of reading time, even though I seem to have spent most of it watching Friday Night Lights and Gilmore Girls.

Of those 177:

72 of those were books I owned, of which I have donated 25 to charity as I simply won’t read them again (either old favourites who have lost their sparkle or new reads I really didn’t enjoy enough to read again).

5 were borrowed books… I usually borrow more but moving further away from my two book-loving friends has cut down on the opportunity to borrow.  I’ve since moved stores again so will have weekends off… More time for catching up with friends!

54 were library books.  This truly was the year of the library!  There’s a tiny library behind my workplace, which has a reasonable selection of books but I can reserve books from any library in my county or the three surrounding counties for a small fee and they’ll be ready to pick up from my library in a week or two.  This has given me the opportunity to read a lot of books I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to pay for, or had on my Amazon wish-list but got from the library before buying!

45 of the books were on my Kindle.  This high number surprises me… I think I get over-excited with buying books on my Kindle, especially when they’re so cheap, and then forget to read them.  Especially in the past couple of months, I’ve had about 15 books on loan from the library and have neglected those on my Kindle, but haven’t stopped buying new ones.  I really need to do something about that… I was thinking about buying a set amount of Amazon gift cards through the year and only buying e-books when I have a balance on the gift-card.  Not sure… Something needs to be done!

Most of the books I read were either Young Adult or contemporary romance.  There were a few classics there but not enough… I think that may be because I’ve reached Jane Austen/Charlotte Bronte overload and have consciously taken a break from their books, I may need to discover a new author or two to get my classics fix. 

So, that’s my year in numbers! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014.