If you want to weep, laugh, melt and cry out in anguish during the chilly months, then One Day in December is your perfect fix, an ideal Christmas romance for fans of Richard Curtis tearjerkers. It not only deals with the sentimental and cosy parts that love-stories should tick off, but the infernal frustration and rage involved. This debut novel proves that fate can be both cruel and wondrous.
I do genuinely believe in love at first sight, or a certain connection that two people can have which is almost instant. You have to believe in this theory, even a tiny bit, to enjoy the story. Two strangers, Laurie and Jack, glance at each other through a misty bus window and experience just that. Everybody knows how buses can get during the winter; jam-packed, foggy and cough-fumed. For Laurie, all of this evaporates for one second of life-altering, mysterious magic. Then it’s gone as her bus drives away. She spends a whole year searching for ‘bus-boy’ only to be introduced to him as her best-friend’s new boyfriend. She convinces herself the whole concept of Jack as her instant soul mate is insane and gets on with life. And life certainly barges through, another point this novel conveys successfully. Through new careers, holidays, illnesses and even marriage, time slips by ruthlessly. The only way to claim moments is to be fearless and take chances. Ten years can be filled with everything and nothing.
We have all been a Laurie; out of uni and trying to figure out how to be independent. She is sweet, passionate and realistic. I have just watched the Bridget Jones double dose of lunatic and heart-warming tumbles. The films came out when I was too young to understand all the jokes grown-up girls and mums were making around me. One Day… reads like a homage to the great Bridget. It has the same hilarious manic narration but navigates a style of its own. It does well in keeping a reader’s attention through the spirals of diverting events. The language was at times quite dated, perhaps a generation behind. Overall, it was a pleasure to have been part of Laurie’s and Jack’s beautiful journey, which truly left me in awe about life’s magic moments.
Many thanks to Georgia Taylor at Penguin General for my copy xxx
Published by Piatkus Books, 31st July 2018, 384 pages, £5.99
Born to be Wilde begins beautifully, as all of Eloisa James’ novels, perfect for early morning commutes and lazy Sunday noons. It instantly claims you from the first few sentences and fills you with that warm, soothing glow you expect from a classic regency romance.
Lavinia Gray, friend of the scandalous Wildes clan who we were introduced to in Wilde in Love, is in trouble. The money has gone and her mother has committed crimes. In a fit of desperation she turns to Parth Sterling, unofficial Wilde member, bosom pal of her friends’ husbands and self-made rich bachelor. Despite being the one who has always irritated her, prickled her with his comments about her frivolity, caused her to retaliate with childish taunts, she asks for his hand in marriage. But he turns her down. That is what she expected anyway. Why would sensible, serious Parth want her anyway? And she doesn’t want a man who lacks understanding, compassionate and respect. As she comes to terms with her rejection, she realises how hurt she was. However, her proposal was not born out of love… or was it?
Parth has already chosen a perfect bride for himself. Someone who ticks all the boxes and is as practical as he is. When he learns part of Lavinia’s problems, he volunteers to find her a husband, the best candidate being a Prince. But he also finds it hard to get her proposal out of his head. When Lavinia realises she can earn money by doing what she loves best, she grows in confidence. Parth is able to understand her interests more, and the longer they spend time together on his ‘matchmaking’ trials, he realises that practicality is no match for what he has been denying for years.
I loved how the two MCs gradually accepted their feelings for each other. A deliciously stubborn coupling who bicker, clash heatedly and are drawn together like magnets. My favourite scene was a reckless rain-soaked one. Typical but quite necessary. We also follow Lavinia’s journey to earn independence and save her mother, learning about 18th fashion and addiction on the way. However, the narrative struggled to keep my interest towards the end and falls a little flat towards the final fifty pages. Still waiting for the best of the series.
Many thanks to Little, Brown/Piatkus for my copy xxx
Published by Piatkus, 31st October 2017, 416 pages, £8.99
Eloisa James returns with another heart-hugging and racy romp perfect for this season. As days darken and leaf strewn streets beckon us into the sanctuary of a warm reading nook, this book is ideal for curling up and warming the soul, with of course some pulse quickening moments.
It’s the first in a new series (although it never really matters which part of a romance series you begin with), set in the Georgian period and is an idol story. Lord Alaric Wilde returns to England from years of exploring and writing to find out he has become something of a sensation, with leagues of women devouring his books and plastering their bedroom walls with his handsome face. Confused by all the attention he retreats to his father’s castle to reunite with his family only to find a host of their guests fawning over his every movement. The one who isn’t the least bit interested (of course) is a young woman called Willa Ffynche. Spirited and witty, Willa is unfazed by his reputation and is frankly indifferent to him.
The fact that it’s a simple plot set in one location with a small circle of characters, is a testament to the author, who kept me reading into the night. The obstacles keep on piling. Alaric has to convince Willa that his interest in her, whilst other women are throwing themselves at him, is not because she is another unmarked territory to conquer. Willa, composed and sensible, finds it increasingly difficult to ignore the mere heat of his presence. James is skilled at creating tension without dialogue, just with the characters being in the same space. Even if Willa does succumb to her attraction, marriage with Alaric, who is followed eagerly by every newspaper, is the last thing that she wants if she is to have a peaceful life. James expertly drops moments of recognition and satisfaction, building towards a blissful ending with a note of suspense. She also throws in memorable quirks such as a delusional missionary and an intelligent skunk that helps save the day.
Published by May 2013, Harlequin Teen, 456 pages, £3.49
I thoroughly enjoyed this. Before embarking on an 11 hour flight across the world, I knew I needed a Katie McGarry. Everything she writes somehow both soothes and excites me. Pushing the Limits, the first in this series was great, full of crackling chemistry and drama. I would recommend reading this book first as it contains the characters’ history, which isn’t completely essential, but boosts the engagement.
This story follows Beth, another girl from the wrong side of town (Check out Red At Night). All she has known since she was a child was to protect her mother from everything.. drugs, a violent boyfriend and prison. Growing up with unsavoury characters, she has learnt to be tough as nails and sharp as a whip in order to survive. Her character jumped out at me with her dialogue ringing out loud and clear. Her vulnerability and strength also felt raw.
As problems spiral out of control, Beth is forced to move away with her uncle who makes it his mission to reform her. Scared for her mother, separated from her best friends and attending the local ‘hick’ high school, she experiences her worst nightmare. Despite this, she finds herself drawn to the most stereo-typical guy she should avoid, golden boy jock Ryan. He is your average High School Musical star, but with baseball and a bit more muscle. On track to play pro, the cracks in his perfect life start to inch further into the book; a domineering father, a depressed mother and an estranged brother. What starts off as a dare to ask out scary skater girl, leads to deep attraction and mutual understanding. This romance started off quite slow with a lot of back tracking, which made the book longer than necessary. I was impressed with the shift in Ryan’s character, who started off as an macho airhead.
Beth and Ryan have to face a lot of courage to make their relationship a reality. They have to face abilities that have been suppressed or forgotten. For Beth it’s trust, while for Ryan it’s rebellion.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, September 2013, 481 pages, £1.19
What started as a light-hearted story about a young woman’s first days at Uni quickly evolved as a thoughtful tale about mental health. Do not be fooled by the cutesy cover. While it is upbeat and quirky, it moves into darker corners of everyday life.
Cath lives and breathes fandom. She and her twin sister Wren devoured a children’s fantasy series called Simon Snow. They wrote wreathes of fanfiction, hung out in forums and went to late night book releases. Their obsession grew at the same time their mother had left them. In that sense it was not so much a craze but a way to cope. For Cath, it was not only the option to live in someone else’s world, but to have their words become yours. In writing fanfiction, she ensured that the story that comforted her during the painful separation, never ends. This is a notion that really hit home. Cath takes comfort-zone to a whole new level.
As the sisters head off to college, Wren is keen to become independent and live apart. So Cath is faced with a terrifying new life, away from a once inseparable twin and a father who also never fully recovered from the family trauma. We soon realize that this is more than your usual freshmen jitters. Cath has trouble engaging with new environments and people, preferring to almost starve than ask where the food hall is. A big bulk of the novel focuses on how she navigates through this, with the help of some zesty characters and a cute farm boy. This is when the plot slows a little, but the author easily maintains a constant liveliness to the story.
Cath is a very sweet character and I imagine she speaks to many types of ‘fangirls’. We all understand how special certain books are, their characters, worlds and most importantly their words. We root for Cath to grow in confidence and independence, not so she can cast away her past but so she can finally create her own stories.
It’s been a Katie McGarry week and I never want it to end. Thankfully, there are about five more (plus a novella) in this Pushing the Limits series. I have no idea why it has taken me so long to start it. The drama, passion and fiery energy the author brings to her characters warms me from each page. Unlike the Thunder Road series, there are no biker gangs, but focuses on domestic drama, bereavement and mental illness.
Echo and Noah are from two ends of the social spectrum (McGarry is at her best with opposite attraction). Echo was once popular girl, dance team member and on track for an art scholarship. But after the death of her older brother and a traumatic episode involving her mother, she becomes withdrawn and distant from everyone, hiding her inner and outer scars. She is also repressed by her controlling father and his new wife, who was embarrassingly her childhood babysitter.
Noah is the labeled ‘dodgy’ boy who sits at the back of class and lunch, involved with violence, drugs and hook-ups. After the death of his parents and the painful separation from his younger brothers, he has been through the mill of abusive foster care. He is someone who has given up on trust, especially from authority figures, and fights tooth and nail to get his brothers back. Both Echo and Noah’s days are filled with anger and silence. When a guidance councilor brings them together, their initial impression of each other- impressions created by gossip and stereotyping, gradually sift away to make room for their consuming attraction.
Their romance is so fierce, but the wounds from their problems are so raw, McGarry creates an exiting struggle of wanting and never wanting to be the characters. The plot is driven by the mystery of Echo’s memory, as she fails to remember the detail of her trauma. Echo’s mother suffers from bipolar disorder and she fears that she will also loose control and be accused of ‘craziness’. The story deals with the lack of understanding mental illnesses and how it is dealt with. As Echo’s memory comes back in fearful shards, she tries to loosen her father’s safety grips, while Noah does battle with society to reclaim his brothers. Everybody’s limits are tested as the characters challenge those that restrict them as well as pushing their inner scars to extremes. Long at times, the novel was an addictive whirlwind of fatal build-ups and made me look forward to my train journey after a trying day at work.
Published by William Morrow, October 2016, 400 pages, £4.49
Meg Cabot is my ultimate hero. She has a gift for creating vibrant characters in insanely hilarious scenarios within the stroke of a few sentences. Her romances are deep-felt and effortless. Her plots are fast-paced and addictive. The Boy is Back incorporates most of these qualities, but unfortunately falls short of being Cabot’s best work.
Cabot takes us to her favourite setting, small town Bloomville Indiana, where there is homely but close-knit chaos. The main characters are the boy who left and the girl who stayed. Reed Stewart is a pro golf star who turned his back on his past, including the parents that pushed him away and the girlfriend he let down. Becky Flowers is a successful business woman who worked hard to take over her father’s moving company. Her life revolves around organisation and control, especially when trying to forget a high school heart-break. When Reed’s parents run into financial trouble and alarming elderly episodes, he is pressured by his siblings to return for support. His reappearance triggers a rupture in the small community, who have already been buzzing about the Stewarts’ problems.
It’s a satisfying ‘confront the past’ story. There is all round fun with the siblings, their kids and citizens causing drama during an emotional period. As Reed tries to reconcile with his parents, old feelings for Becky get unlocked. Despite her control, Becky falls again for the boy who left and secrets are revealed.
This novel is written entirely through social media messages, emails, diary entries and letters. This creates a light read and upbeat pace, with each chapter being an energetic change. However, much of the depth to develop the romance and character growth is lost. The reader only experiences things on the surface and are prevented from being entirely involved. The Boy.. is the ideal read to unwind and amuse yourself, but nothing too deep.