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review 2018-07-16 18:54
A light, feel-good read, for those who enjoy choral books full of larger-than-life characters.
The Not So Perfect Plan to Save Friendship House - Michelle Gorman

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

Sometimes it seems as if all the books and movies on offer are centred on young protagonists, and I’m not only talking about Young Adult books. However, recently there has been a move towards including older protagonists and subjects. I enjoyed the two Dutch books about Hendrik Groen, a man in his eighties living in a nursing home, and have watched a few movies, usually choral, about older protagonists (like The Exotic Marigold Hotel). The setting of this novel, in a residential home, and the promise of a comedy made it sound like the perfect choice for me.

The first-person narrator of the story is Phoebe, a chef who had a very successful career in a bistro before disaster struck. She loves her job at the residential home (The Jane Austen Home for Ladies, and, as we discover, the name is meaningful in several ways), but has always felt frustrated because her parents (and her mother, in particular) do not seem to value her job and are dismissive of her career. To make matters worse, her mother (a larger-than-life character) dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, but her internalised voice keeps gnawing on her confidence.  Her best friend, June, is the manager of the home, and she fancies Nick, who is the official physiotherapist but also takes on any odd jobs going on (art therapy, gardening, handyman…). I know some readers don’t like first-person narratives, although Phoebe is unassuming, witty and an excellent friend. (On the minus side, her lack of self-confidence can make her sound paranoid and bitchy, and she keeps mulling over things, unable to decide what to do, trying hard to feel comfortable in her own skin and accept the credit for her achievements). We learn some surprising things about her family life together and by the end of the book, although I don’t have much in common with her character, I felt connected to her and appreciated her role as a narrator. Her friendship with June is convincing and their relationship is one of the strongest points of the book.

I also loved the residents of the home, and in many ways (not only due to my age, I hope), I felt closer to them than to the protagonist. We get to know some of them more than others (Maggie is fabulous and I loved Dot, Laney, Sophie, and yes, even Terence). They all feel real, with their foibles and their endearing traits, and make the book memorable. We follow the intrigues that have to do with the home and the changes that take place there (from a women’s only place to a mixed one) and learn about its inhabitants, their secrets, and their past lives. We are both observers and participants in much of the action, and we feel invested in their fates. We learn the importance of accepting people for who they are and moving beyond appearances and prejudices.

There are several romances with happy, or at least hopeful, endings (for the young and the older generations), broken hearts and disappointments, secrets and lies, and there is also the connection (pointed out through references to the book club and their discussions) to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I would not call the novel a variation on Pride and Prejudice but if we think of Austen’s text as we read it we can discover nuances that might be easily missed otherwise.

Although there are many amusing lines in the novel (and some pretty touching ones as well. As we know, humour can be an excellent defence mechanism against hurt), I thought I’d share a few (remember that I got an ARC copy, so there might be some changes to the final version of the novel):

We’ve never let something as trifling as the spectre of death stand in the way of a good snipe.

My mother didn’t get ulcers, she gave them.

He’s a perv-whisperer.

She wouldn’t like my ponytail, though. I did try taking it down, but having it up in a hair tie the entire weekend meant my hair had a ridge along the back that gave it a very White Cliffs of Dover effect.

I’m surprised he doesn’t need an oxygen tank with all the social climbing he’s been doing.

The writing flows well and fits in perfectly with the voice of the narrator, who can spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about her beau but is also attuned to the feelings of the residents and her friend. There are plenty of amusing events taking place throughout the novel that keep the action moving, but the characters are much stronger than the plot and by the end of the book (that I enjoyed) they have all become good friends (or most of them have).

The author defines her books as light reads, as beach novels, and says her readers describe them as “feel-good.” All that is true, although behind all the funny goings-on the book illustrates the importance of keeping expectations and prejudices under control, and it reminds parents that they should encourage their children to find fulfilment in their own terms rather than expect them to make their parent’s dreams come true.  If you are looking for a light read, full of memorable characters, plenty of humour, and a big deal of heart, I’d recommend this novel. And, if it existed in real life, I wouldn’t mind working at the home (and in time even living there) either.

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text 2017-11-05 00:13
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe: A feel good cosy romance perfect for fans of Bake Off - Debbie Johnson

A fairly short not typical Christmas romance book. I was a bit disappointed with this one. The main character in this one is Laura's younger sister Becca. Becca hates Christmas and is going along to visit her sister and her family during the holiday cause she knows how important it is to them. We get some insight into why Becca feels the way she does, but honestly I felt over her about halfway through the book and just didn't gel with her or the hero on this book. Also this book didn't read as a Christmas book and it drove me up the wall. 

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review 2017-09-27 14:03
good story and characters
Reach for the Stars: A feel good, laugh out loud romantic comedy - Colleen Coleman

Evelyn and James were at a relationship counsellors office. They had been HS sweethearts and  been together ten years and married seven years. James thinks it is stupid to pay and come to a counsellor but Evelyn wants to try to save their marriage. Evelyn remembers when they were united in their thoughts, dreams and attitudes. If Evelyn now had just met James or went on a date with him she is sure she would have picked up on his selfishness, his sarcasm, and his intolerable messiness. Evelyn and James had gotten married too soon to know who they really were. Their is no big stuff  destroying their marriage just a lot of little things. After the session James and Evelyn decide to divorce. Evelyn is back at her mom’s house and feels better. Evelyn thinks she should sell the cottage so starts the procedure. But at least she didn’t feel like she was nine years old at the cottage like she does at home. Evelyn really wants to get out there and do something with her life and her new found freedom. James was already off traveling. At first Evelyn loved being spoilt and mollycoddled but then it was becoming smothering. She hadn’t lifted a finger since she came home and if she stayed like this she would never accomplish anything. Evelyn knew she had to reenter the real world. So far Evelyn had figured out that she didn’t want to build a life around someone else. Tara was her sister and an airline stewardess. And she told Evelyn “ you played it safe your whole life- you're a local teacher who married the boy next store and bought a cottage in the village and look where you are”. Then Tara said “ play it your own way, do something for you”. Tara said she was away a lot on flights to come stay at her place in Dublin. Evelyn knew it took courage to walk away from one life to say goodbye to all you know, to leave the comfort and and the familiar and the well loved  to a new one but she  decided to do it. Evelyn moves to Dublin and ends up tending bar at a charming but rundown pub. But to her surprise evelyn is really happy for the first time in years- making new friends and finding a new purpose in life, taking risks and even falling in love again with Danny.

I did enjoy this story a lot. I thought this was sweet and charming. It had a lot of emotional ups and downs which would be expected with a divorce then a whole new start on life as far as I am concerned. I loved Evelyn’s attitude all through this book. I loved how Danny was a friend first. I also loved how Danny understood Evelyn’s dreams and wanted to be part of them. I liked seeing Evelyn grow as the book went on. This did drag for me at times but I still continues on. I wanted to see how Evelyn came out. I loved that Danny was a musician. I loved the characters and the ins and outs of this book and I recommend.

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review 2017-06-06 15:49
The Summer House: A gorgeous feel good romance that will have you hooked - Jenny Hale

A great beach read set in . . . a beach house! I enjoyed reading this book, while a little cheesy sometimes, it was a fun read. The blurb was absolutely correct in saying "a gorgeous, feel good romance that will have you hooked"! The added bonus of a secret diary hiding a huge secret made it very interesting, as well.

Thanks to Bookouture and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased opinion.

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review 2017-03-12 21:29
A holiday read.
Bad Mother's Diary - Suzy K Quinn

This is not a book I would normally have chosen but our book group wanted it for this month, so I thought I'd give it a go. It was an easy enough read, although rather predictable and the ending was a bit rushed. It felt like a cross between Sophie Kinsella (Shopaholic books) and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones).

I cringed at the appearance of the author half way through, congratulating us for getting this far, I hope this does not become an author trend.

 

Juliette Duffy and Nick Spencer have a young baby and are planning to make it official and get married. They are living in London in Nick's mother's flat. Helen is the mother-in-law from hell, appearing almost daily, unannounced, complaining about anything and everything. I'm not keen on books that announce on the front cover that they are hilarious, as I rarely laugh in books, but some of the best moments were Juliette's come-backs to Helen.

 

Juliette and Nick's baby, Daisy is adorable but doesn't sleep well. Juliette is constantly exhausted, which will ring true to many mothers. Just getting out, without smears and marks on her clothes, is a major achievement. The issue with weight and dieting was a bit tedious, and very Bridget Jones's Diary, ditto the diary format, which felt rather too familiar.

Juliette bravely decides to run the London Winter Marathon, which was a nice touch. Then there was Alex, a childhood friend from a wealthy background, hmmm, way too predictable, but I won't add any spoilers.

 

By the way, I live in Dubai and there is no shortage of bikinis available - not just burkinis and Juliette supposedly discovered.

 

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