Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Summer House by Christobel Kent


         Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011

        The Summer House

  • Paperback: 373 pages
  • Genre: Mystery Fiction
  • Publisher: Penguin 2005
  • Source: Purchased Oxfam Bookshop in UK
  • First Sentence : ‘Genova sprawls on the northern Mediterranean between two mountainous spurs that dip into the sea, a snarl of industrial steel, bridges, tunnels and peeling tower-blocks.’
  • Review Quote: ‘Well drawn, Kent manipulates her transplanted inglesi and loquacious locali with unfussy authority’
  • My Opinion : Realistic Italian background.



    The September post with a list of books that the other people taking part are reading this month has already been posted. September Reviews.

    Another thriller with a realistic Italian background for this months choice, a different author though, but one I have read for this challenge before back in February.  A Party in San Niccolo

    The story centres around Rose Fell a divorcee who left a secure job in journalism and family in London to move to a beautiful but isolated village in Italy near Genoa. After a year there she is still finding it a struggle to integrate, however when she is asked by a colleague from the UK if she can write an article about another local her life changes. At about the same time a young girl is found dead on a local beach and another young local woman disappears. Rose finds herself embroiled in this local mystery. Ania, the young woman that is missing was until the time of her disappearance working for the once famous model and film star Elvira Vitale that Rose is due to interview. Elvira and her younger British husband whom she no longer seems able to trust spend every summer in Italy and winters in the UK, hence the British press interest in the couple. The danger that is lurking closer than either of them realise throws these women together.

    To repeat what I said about the last novel I read by this author, there is enough suspense skilfully built into the story that kept me turning the pages to make this a very quick and entertaining read.

    Christobel Kent was born in London in 1962 and now lives in Cambridge with her husband and four children; in between she lived in Florence. She worked in publishing for several years, most recently as Publicity Director at Andre Deutsch. Her debut novel A Party in San Niccolo, was published in 2003. The about the author section in the book I have just read states they have five children. I have not been able to confirm which information is correct.

    This list of titles by her may well be of interest to those of you taking part in the Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011


    A Time of Mourning: A Sandro Cellini Novel (Sandro Cellini 1)   A Fine and Private Place (Sandro Cellini 2)

    A Party in San NiccoloThe Summer House

    Late SeasonA Florentine Revenge


    Biographical and other information including photos and videos are courtesy of the following websites and from the paperback itself.

    Goodreads - Christobel Kent

    Amazon Author Page


    I also post these ‘Italy in Books’ reviews on my other blog.

    News From Italy

  • Friday, September 23, 2011

    The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark



  • Paperback: 509 pages
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publisher: Transworld Publishers 2011
  • Source: Transworld Book Challenge
  • First Sentences : ‘Our train hurtled past a gold-spangled woman in a mango sari, regal even as she sat in the dirt, patting cow dung into disks for cooking fuel.’
  • Favourite Quote: ‘Death steals everything but our stories’
  • Review Quote: A powerful tale of romance and mystery. News of the World.
  • My Opinion : Engaging and evocative.


                  Book Group Logo


    I am delighted to say that it is thanks to the Transworld Book Challenge that I got to read this engaging and evocative novel. It was my first choice of four titles for this excellent scheme, whereby they send me a book to read and review, once my review is posted they will send me my next choice. This is a great idea that works for authors, publishers, readers and reviewers. I do hope they will do this again as this is a title I may well have missed out on had I not signed up for the challenge.

    It is thought that ‘Partition’ may well be the worst thing that ever happened to India. This statement was backed up for me when I read the author’s notes at the end of this book, where she tells of a man talking to her about ‘ Partition’ I quote “When you create a border based on ideology, you create something to fight over. When you live side by side, you create a reason to get along”

    The story unfolds slowly but it needs to as you are reading the stories of two different sets of characters in different times as the novel alternates between the India of 1947 and that of 1857. Two love stories ninety years apart but linked by the main protagonist of the story Evie.

    Evie, her husband Martin and their young son have travelled to India as Martin has been awarded a Fellowship to study the end of British rule in India. The marriage is under strain due to Martin’s war time experiences and finding herself stranded in a colonial bungalow in the Himalaya’s Evie struggles to heal the rift between her and her husband. It is in this bungalow that Evie finds a hidden cache of letters which relate a compelling story of two Victorian women. Felicity and Adela, were unconventional young ladies that had lived in the same bungalow, hiding their story for others, they hoped to find one day. Evie becomes drawn to their story and embarks on piecing this mysterious love story together. 

    The detail of the sights, sounds and smells of India are portrayed so well by the author that I felt transported there. I recommend the book highly, however there is one small thing that I noticed that I have not been able to answer from the text. In the 1940’s section of the novel Evie is relating the story to us in the first person, but somehow the date does not seem right, was she relating this years later? Why do I query this, let me quote from page 64, second paragraph.

    ‘In 1945 they called it combat fatigue, but in the First World war they had called it shell shock, which is more accurate. Martin wasn’t simply tired of combat, he was shocked by the barbarism  skulking in men’s souls. After Vietnam, they started calling it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Stress? Please. The names for this mental illness become more sanitized with every war.’

    Did any one else who has already read this notice this, if so what did you make of it?  Did you find any reference in the novel as to when Evie was telling us this story, that it was maybe not in the 1940’s, apart from this paragraph? I would love to know.

    To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed this perfectly entwined novel that manages to swap easily from one time frame to the other, without confusing the reader.

    Elle Newmark  Fan PageFacebook Fan Page Photo


    Elle Newmark lived in the hills north of San Diego, California. Her sensational debut was The Book of Unholy Mischief. This was her second novel, sadly there will be no more as she died recently after a long illness. If you would like to learn more about Elle, including read her last tear jerking blog post visit her Official Website or her Obituary

    She has left a wonderful legacy in both this and her previous novel The Book of Unholy Mischief. As she wrote herself in this novel ‘ Death steals everything but our stories.’

    Still not sure if this is for you, then watch this short video, no spoilers just a very evocative introduction to the novel. I will quote the YouTube introduction. ‘A sweeping tale of two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the rich backdrop of war-torn India. An American woman, Evie, discovers a hidden packet of old letters and becomes consumed by a need to piece together the story behind them. Evie chases her Victorian ghosts, leading us through bazaars and temples as well as the dying society of the British Raj.’

    Uploaded by cosproductions on Apr 5, 2011

    Information, photo and video used in this post is with thanks to the following websites.

    YouTube - The Sandalwood Tree

    Facebook Fan Page

    Author's Official Website.

    Elle Newmark - Obituary

  • Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines by Carol Wyer


  • EBook:
  • 408 pages
  • Genre : Humorous Fiction
  • Publisher: Smashwords 2011
  • Source: eBook provided by the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
  • Sample From Chapter One : The protagonist describes herself: ABOUT ME My name is Amanda Wilson. I like chick flicks, wine, romantic novels, wine, 1970’s and 80’s music, chocolate and wine. I am a very desperate housewife. I live in a village in rural Staffordshire, populated almost entirely by elderly people. Even the local window cleaner is in his seventies. I used to have a life and a job. Nowadays, I seem to spend most of my time acting as a referee between my husband, Phil - who since he retired - has become the grumpiest of grumpy old men, and my son. We waved him off with a fanfare to university a couple of years ago but he returned to the nest almost immediately, having turned into a complete drop out. Life is a tad on the dull side at the moment. However, there are changes afoot, very significant changes and that is why I am writing this blog. By the way did I mention I like wine?
  • My Opinion: I agree with the author that there is something of Amanda in all of us.
    Reading this novel is not about great literature, it is about reading the debut of a novelist who knows how to make you laugh and take you away from the cares of the world for a few hours. Well maybe not exactly away from all your cares as if you are a woman of a certain age you may well recognise some of your own thoughts.
    If I ever met such a whiney moaning couple I would want to shake them out of it.  Being depressed and miserable is not the right way to approach 50, and anyway it is not that bad, age is just a number! However reading about the trials and tribulations this couple face in their day to day life will certainly bring a smile to your face.
    Thanks to Amanda deciding to set herself up with an online blog she does manage to shake up her own life. As I got to know the characters I became more sympathetic to Amanda's anxieties about facing 50. Like the commenters on her blog I found myself encouraging her to make certain decisions as she dealt with situations such as shopping trips with her husband, her lazy son, eccentric mother and her own plans to get fit.
    A very funny book and I feel an excellent debut from an author whose writing we can expect to see get even better as she grows in confidence. She has a tremendous sense of humour and has the ability to see the funny side of life in every day events. Keep writing Carol as I think there are many of us women of a certain age that will keep reading.

    Author photo.
    Born into a military family, Carol’s childhood was mostly spent abroad where she developed a love of reading, travel and languages.
    It was therefore natural that she should later become a linguist, translator and teacher who enjoyed a career in various countries, finally settling in the UK when she met her husband.
    Carol then ran her own language company for several years until she managed to tip her offspring out of the nest and indulge in her passion for writing.
    Facing a major birthday last year and determined to enjoy her fifties she immediately set about writing her humorous blog Facing 50 with Humour which encourages others to laugh at life and age-related difficulties. It rapidly gained in world-wide popularity and it was this that led her to write her debut novel Mini Skirts and laughter Lines which was completed earlier this year.
    I am including the following press release that will tell you more about the book, in Carol’s own words, that she kindly sent me.
    Approaching any big birthday can be daunting, but Carol Wyer's delightful new book Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines will take the sting out of getting older. Written in the form of a blog or diary, this debut novel is hilarious from start to finish.
    Her main character, Amanda Wilson, is a desperate, wine loving, housewife whose dull existence is transformed by logging on to the Internet where she finds, escapism, friendship and someone she didn't bargain on meeting again.
    Amanda refuses to acknowledge she has reached her sell by date in spite of evidence to the contrary. Her mission is simple; to turn back the clock, regain control of her body, her oafish son and her aged party-loving mother who is attempting to age as disgracefully as possible.
    The novel is a serious of blog entries which track her life, efforts to turn herself into a sexy vixen and her hopeless and highly comic attempts to interest her newly retired husband who seems to have lost his joie de vivre -from wild parties with the octogenarian neighbours - to art classes with jaw dropping results.
    It isn't long before a semi-defeated Amanda, frustrated by all around her, embarks upon a steamy online relationship which gives her much more to concentrate upon than being fab at fifty.
    The perfect companion on holiday, this fun, light-hearted novel should be enjoyed while on the beach, or relaxing by the pool. Beneath the chuckles and chortles though lie many truths and anxieties that are easily recognised and can be related to by any person facing middle age.
    Carol has already begun the sequel to Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines.

    Tomorrow just happens to be the official publication date for Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines and Carol Wyer is holding a big online launch party to celebrate.
    Maybe now you have read this review and watched the video you are interested in popping over to join in the fun, so here is your invitation from Carol.
    The World-Wide Laughter Lines Party
    I would be utterly delighted and honoured if you could participate in what I hope will be the worlds biggest, fun-filled all day, book launch party for my debut novel Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines. Please help to make it the most successful launch -ever.
    Date: September 16th 2011- an all day event in every time zone
    Where: and also at

    Thank you so much for participating.
    Carol E. Wyer.
    If you are still not convinced that you would enjoy this book, please watch this interview with Carol Wyer as she explains how she came to write Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines. As Carol says Amanda Wilson is not a fictional character she is all of us women over a certain age.

    Biographical and other information including photos and videos are courtesy of the following websites and the author herself.
    Facebook Profile - Carol Wyer

  • Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Watching Willow Watts by Talli Roland



  • EBook: 231 pages
  • Genre : Chick Lit Humour
  • Publisher: Prospera 2011
  • Source: eBook provided by the author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
  • First Sentence : ‘Please not the Kumquat marmalade again’ Willow Watts whispered as an elderly lady beckoned with a spoonful of jelly.
  • Author’s Website Quote: One country girl is about to discover that fame can cost a fortune
  • A Favourite Quote: If there was one thing she’d learnt from this Marilyn fiasco, it was that if something was important, you had to fight for it.
  • My Opinion : Sparkly lively modern novel that will appeal to many.

    Well the date has arrived; tomorrow September 14th is the official launch day of Talli Roland’s much awaited second novel.  Talli is one of the new generation of writers that understands the importance of an online presence for an author. She certainly went to town with the launch of her debut novel   The Hating Game  clicking on the title will take you directly to the review I wrote last year. I said it in my last review but will say it again, Talli Roland is a very enterprising young woman that totally understands the importance of publicity. She made a successful job of promoting her last novel and I think that she will do so again this time. Readers who enjoyed her debut are in for a treat as within its genre she has written another sparkly lively modern novel that will appeal to many.  For fans of light humoured  and easily readable modern women's fiction, love stories with a happy ending than Talli Roland is a name to watch out for.

    Once again this young author has come up with an original story line, this time about a Marilyn Monroe look a like, who discovers by playing Marilyn that one of the most important things we learn in this life, is to be true to ourselves.

    Our heroine  gives her name to the novel and it starts as Willow leaves behind her successful London career as a florist to return to Belcherton, England’s ugliest village, to care for her recently-widowed father. Her life has become rather mundane helping her father in his struggling  antiques business. At the local village fete her best friend gets her to dress up as Marilyn Monroe, just for a bit of fun.  Before they know it someone has posted a video on You Tube and everything escalates out of control in double quick time as Marilyn mania takes over village life. Surrounded by a fascinating cast of characters including the ghastly Jay who becomes her agent, Willow totally embraces the character of Marilyn. To find out how this all works out for our heroine you will have to read the book for yourself.

    Having lived for many years in an English country village, some of the descriptions of the events and characters had me giggling at how well she has captured the essence.  Talli obviously has a tremendous sense of humour which has shown through in both of her novels so far. For her humour alone I recommend her writing to you, but even more so if you are a fan of chick lit style romantic fiction.

     Party Invite RSVP

    To launch Watching Willow Watts Talli is holding an online party. Here is an invitation from her to join in the fun tomorrow.

    'If I Could Be Anyone, I'd Be...' ! The idea is to come 'dressed' as that one person you've always admired, longed to impersonate, or just plain envied. Now is your chance to make your superhero, film-star, or Rock God fantasies come true! Why the dress up? In my novel, Willow's one-off Marilyn Monroe impression goes viral on YouTube, making her a star overnight.
    If you have a blog and you'd like to take part, all you need to do is post a photo of your chosen one (dead or alive) along with an explanation why you've picked that person.
    If you're on Twitter or Facebook, just post 'If I could be anyone, I'd be X' as your status, along with the hast-tag #watchingwillowwatts on Twitter (or tag me on FB so I know you've taken part). You'll be entered in a draw to win an Amazon gift certificate, Marilyn paraphernalia, or a copy of 'Watching Willow Watts'.

    Pop over here if you'd like to sign up and have your blog be visited by other participants, or just join in on the day:

    Uploaded by TalliRoland on Sep 12, 2011

      Marilyn Monroe

    Talli as Marilyn.       

    Talli as herself.

    Talli Roland
    About Talli

    Talli Roland has three loves in her life: chick lit, coffee and wine. Born and raised in Canada, Talli now lives in London, where she savours the great cultural life (coffee and wine). Despite training as a journalist, Talli soon found she preferred making up her own stories – complete with happy endings. Her first novel, The Hating Game, was an Amazon UK best-seller, remaining in the top 100 for over two months.

    Talli Roland has an online presence in all the following places.

    WebLink to her Official Website

    Follow her on TwitterTalli Roland

    Read her blogTalli Roland

    Find her on Facebook and Goodreads

    You can read my review of her debut novel here and also watch two short videos starring Talli about The Hating Game and her writing on her Official Website.

    The Hating Game

    Her third novel entitled Build A Man is due out in December.

    With thanks to Talli Roland personally and her websites for the information used in this post. Wishing her all the best with the official launch of Watching Willow Watts.


    Ebook available now paperback November 30 2011.

  • Saturday, September 10, 2011

    Treasure Me by Christine Nolfi




    • EBook: 415 pages
    • Genre : Contemporary Fiction
    • Publisher: Kindle 2011
    • Source: eBook provided by the author as a result of me winning a give away draw organised by The Eclectic Reader 
    • My Opinion: After a slow start I was glad I continued.


    I have very eclectic tastes when it comes to reading and if an author approaches me I am usually happy to take them up on any offers to receive a copy of their novel in return for an honest and unbiased review. It is no surprise to me that recently more and more of the requests I have been receiving are with regards to ebooks. This is fine with me unless there turns out to be a problem with formatting, as happened to me with this title. I am not at all technical so have to rely on the author knowing what he or she is doing, if I just tell them which devices we have available!

    I had liked the sound of Christine Nolfi’s  debut novel and did in fact enjoy it in the end after this very frustrating start.  It was not only proving difficult to get into the story as the characters were introduced but due to some initial formatting problems chunks were missing from the end of the first few chapters! Thanks to the patience of the author with my technical inabilities, as neither of us were really sure what was happening, she certainly had no problems prior to mine, it was sorted.  Frustrations behind me I found my self settling into the story which is very readable. Do not expect a great literary work but an easy read that will hold your attention if you let yourself get beyond the first fifty pages.

    The two main characters are Birdie and Hugh whose paths cross in the town of Liberty, Ohio  Birdie is a small time thief in search of family history in the form of an heirloom which she hopes will be valuable enough to enable her to give up her life of crime and settle down. Hugh a failing journalist is in town to write an expose about a local family. There is immediate sexual tension between the two of them and despite the fact they both claim to be looking for no more than a casual fling it is soon obvious they are are starting to care for one another.

    Without giving any more away I can say that by the end of the story, I felt I was beginning to know quite well the little town of Liberty and its inhabitants. I would have preferred I think though to have had the story related just by the two protagonists. Although I do understand why the author probably felt some things needed explaining from a different point of view at times. The ending is predictably a little clichéd but to be expected with this style of contemporary fiction.

    If this sounds like your style then it is worth reading. I would not have chosen to read this myself had the author not approached me to do so, but I am glad she did.


    Christine Nolfi

    Christine owned a small public relations firm in Cleveland, Ohio. Her articles and press releases have appeared regionally in The Plain Dealer, The Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Magazine and other media outlets. Her short story, Night Hour, appeared in Working Mother magazine. Christine closed the firm fifteen years ago after she travelled to the Philippines and adopted a sibling group of four children. She has been writing novels fulltime since 2004.

    “Treasure Me” is the first book of the Liberty, Ohio series. “Second Chance Grill” was  due to be released in June 2011, although I have not been able to verify if this in fact happened.

    Information for this post is with thanks to the following websites.

    Author photo courtesy of Goodreads

    Goodreads Author Profile - Christine Nolfi

    Christine Nolfi Blog

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    The French Gardener by Santa Montefiore




  • Paperback: 407 pages
  • Genre: Romantic Fiction
  • Publisher: Touchstone Edition, Simon and Schuster 2009
  • Source: Purchased Oxfam Bookshop in UK
  • First Sentences : ‘It was nearly dusk when she reached the cottage, a cardboard box held tightly against her chest. The sun hung low in the sky, turning the clouds pink like tufts of cotton candy.’
  • Review Quote: ‘Romantic…utterly irresistible’ Daily Mail.
  • My Opinion : A story that truly captures the struggle to balance love and duty.


    It is only two months since I last read and reviewed a book by this author but this one from the blurb on the back cover sounded just perfect for spending a few lazy summer afternoons reading. It was perfect so Santa Montefiore gets to feature here again.                                  These are the words that jumped out at me from the back cover ‘A neglected garden. A cottage that holds a secret. A mysterious Frenchman, (handsome naturally). A family in need of some love. These elements are entwined in this heart warming novel that reviewers consistently compare to Maeve Binchy and Rosamunde Pilcher.’      

    I have in fact made this very same comparison myself, here in my review of The Swallow and the Hummingbird,  when I recommended her writing to all lovers of romantic fiction, especially fans of Rosamunde Pilcher.

    The French Gardener is a very romantic story, but not in a sickly sweet way, that found me with tears in my eyes a few times. Maybe I have been feeling a little too sentimental recently but I really enjoyed the way this story was told. The book is divided into the four seasons and within each section there are told the stories of the two families, linked past and present by The French Gardener himself. In modern times we have David and Miranda Claybourne moving out of London and buying Hartington House a country estate. It is not the idyllic lifestyle that Miranda may have imagined partly because her husband is hardly ever there, finds she is lonely. I found her husband to be arrogant and intensely annoying actually for most of the novel! The gardens have been neglected so when a Jean Paul a Frenchman turns up offering to help restore the place to its former beauty Miranda jumps to accept his offer. Little does she know when she takes him on that he has a connection with the garden and the previous residents Phillip and Ava Lightly from nearly thirty years ago. Both stories centre around Hartington House, its garden and the village it is part of. Anyone who has experienced village life for themselves and or loves gardening will appreciate how well Santa Montefiore has captured the essence of the characters and their surroundings. A story that truly captures the struggle to balance love and duty.

    Personally I am really looking forward to reading more of her novels and am disappointed that at the moment there are no more sitting on our bookshelves waiting for me. 

    I have reproduced here Santa Montefiore’s own words from the Simon and Schuster Website about how her ideas for this novel came about as they help to understand the story.

    I was lazing on the lawn in the summer, thinking about my next book, when I saw my parents' gardener, Simon, mowing the grass on the tractor (my parents live on a farm in Hampshire, UK, and have an enormous garden!) on the back and sides were my two children aged 5 and 7 and their four small cousins. Simon was blithely mowing with these little monkeys laughing and squeaking around him, probably making it harder for him to work, but he didn't seem to mind. I then thought of how much fun they all have in the countryside, planting vegetables and trees, picking apples and blackberries in the autumn, finding small creatures to nurture, rescuing the odd bird fallen out of his nest, building camps and running around in freedom. They rarely watch tv and certainly don't have time for computer games when there's so much to do in the garden! My parents are busy people. My father is either on a tractor or playing tennis, rackets, squash, golf! I noticed too that the garden brought them together. Simon is a recent addition to the farm. My parents didn't hire a new gardener when Peter, the old gardener they'd had for 20 years retired and then died, preferring to save pennies and do the gardening themselves, an enormous task as the grounds are so big. They mowed over the vegetable garden and cut things back to make it more manageable. Then, by chance, or fate, Simon appeared wanting to rent a cottage. When he said he was a gardener my parents took him on a few days a week. They began planting vegetables again, sweet peas, created new borders - it's a hive of activity now, and has brought them closer together as they spend time doing what they love, together. This, combined with my children's love for the countryside, being essentially London children, gave me the idea for the French Gardener. I then wove Jean-Paul and Ava out of my imagination, but the gardens are based on Prince Charles's gardens at Highgrove.

    An audio link to listen to the beginning of the novel can be found by clicking here. I also included a video interview in my last post about this author’s work which I refer you back to if you are interested.

    Biographical and other information including photos and videos are courtesy of the following websites and from the paperback itself.

    Wikipedia - Santa Montefiore

    Goodreads - Santa Montefiore

    Santa Montefiore Official Website

    Simon and Schuster Website

    Author's Official Website

    Santa Montefiore – Facebook

  • For another viewpoint on The French Gardener please call by to visit Laura a blogging friend of mine who has also very recently read this and reviewed on her blog  Ciao Amalfi