A Winter’s Tale – Trisha Ashley

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This wintery novel (available online here) is an excellent example of the best kind of chick lit. All the required elements are there; a heroine undergoing a transformation (be it in life, appearance, location…), an ounce of mystery, an unlikely love interest, some crazy family members, and a plot that offers something unique and different to the thousands of other chick lit novels out there. Trisha Ashley’s tale of Sophy Winter and her sudden inheritance of a stately home in the English countryside is a fantastic read, especially if you’re looking to ease your way into the world of chick lit!

Trisha Ashley - A Winter's TaleI really loved this book. Set in the English countryside, Sophy unexpectedly inherits the family home she left so long ago. Amongst mystery, the debts and the dusty rooms of Winter’s End, Sophy rediscovers her passions and embarks on a large-scale restoration of the manor house so it can re-open to the public. Along the way, she faces her demons, reacquaints herself with the family ghost, and finds love.

This may sound like a fairly typical chick-lit novel. Perhaps it’s my love of novels where they make over something dreary that had swayed me, or maybe my preference for English chick lit authors over American ones (trust me, there IS a difference!), that influenced my opinion of the book. Either way, it was a very enjoyable read. The characters were unique, and quirky, and the plot wasn’t trite. In fact, the comparably longer length of this chick-lit novel managed to fit in more than many others do, without making it a heavy or over-long read.

“A Winter’s Tale” is a must-read for people looking for something a little different within the chick-lit genre, and a love of swoon-worthy gardeners. Check it out!

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Eat, Memory – Amanda Hesser

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Amanda Hesser - Eat, MemoryA clever idea by Amanda Hesser saw writers across America contributing essays about what food means to them; twenty-six authors shared stories about their favourite food memories. There were Jews cooking the passover meal in Berlin, a brother cooking comfort food for his Autistic sister on their birthday, Indian’s trying their best to introduce their families to the delicate French cuisine, an ode to garlic, and one to gravy, and gripes by those who don’t love food about people forcing them to eat desserts.

The great variety of stories lent itself to a very interesting read. These acclaimed writers, with their wide swath of life experiences, were able to paint pictures that made your mouths water. Not to mention the stories are accompanied by the relevant recipes, so that we can cook similar delicious morsels at home.

Rather than just be a book of people describing a meal that they’ve eaten, this book cleverly is more about the strong emotions that can be attached to something as simple as a meal. That feeling is something everyone can relate to, and reading the anecdotes triggers memories of the reader’s own memorable meals.

This book isn’t very long, and each individual essay only spans a few pages, so it’s a great book for food-lovers with not much time on their hands. Definitely worth a look. You can get a copy here.

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New York Valentine – Carmen Reid (Annie Valentine #5)

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Annie Valentine, over the course of four books, carved out a place for herself in the fashion world. She moves from personal shopper, to television fashion personality, all the while balancing her two teenage children, a new hubby, and the unexpected arrival of twins. In her fifth adventure, Annie’s TV Show is unexpectedly cancelled, and she takes the opportunity to visit New York and help a friend with her fashion line, as it faces bankruptcy. Against the backdrop of New York, Annie struggles to pull the business out of the dumps, enjoying the challenge and location, but missing her family. Pleasingly, her daughter, Lana, plays a greater role in this novel, and even is caught wearing colour for once!

Carmen Reid - New York ValentineSurprisingly, the fifth Annie Valentine book regains some of the vigor of the first book in the series. The middle few books tended to over-focus on Annie’s obsession with material possessions, at the expense of her family. At times, this was so frustrating that it overshadowed the book’s good qualities, and became unpleasantly repetitive. This latest installment in the series returned to the roots of Annie V. It was about fashion, and dramas related to fashion, first and foremost. Now, I’m not saying that a shallow, fashion-only novel is all I can read. But the fashion is the crux of these books. Annie’s family and personal relationships were still a big part of the story, but in a supporting role that added to the overall plot line, rather than detract from it. Thankfully, sticking to the basics means that this book was a cheerful, easy read that kept the reader’s attention. Not to mention that half of the story is set in New York, and everybody loves New York! The fashion capital of the world was the right choice.

I’d definitely recommend this book to any chick-lit lovers out there. Even if you haven’t read the first four books in the series, you’ll easily be able to pick up this book and enjoy stepping into the world of fashion for a few hours. You can get a copy of this book here.

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Confessions of a GP – Dr Benjamin Daniels

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Benjamin Daniels - Confessions of a GP

This book wasn’t exactly what I expected. What I had thought would be a fiction-like story encapsulating Dr. Benjamin’s experiences as a doctor in England, turned out to be more like a collection of very short essays, with no connection between them and no logical flow. These essays cover everything from mundane sniffles and imaginary stomach aches, to midnight on-call dramas. Predominantly, however, the stories are of day to day life in General Practice, and the ins and outs of working in the real world of medicine.

That said, most of the individual stories were interesting, if only for a better insight into the life of a GP. I did learn more about the workings of the NHS, and was amused by some of the patient anecdotes. I also appreciated his honesty – Dr. Daniels admitted that he’d made mistakes, and wasn’t shy about discussing his frustrations with the medical world. I was glad to see he was honest, instead of tempering his views for the sake of not upsetting anyone.

It wasn’t a bad read, and while I personally am unlikely to re-read it, I would recommend it to young doctors or medical students, as it gives an idea about what the GP life is like (in the United Kingdom, if you want to be specific, but I suspect that patients are the same everywhere!), and might give you a bit of a laugh! Get it cheaply here.

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Almost Perfect – Kelly Denley

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Almost Perfect is Kelly Denley’s inspirational story of how she took her super-sized family on an Australia-wide journey to bring them closer together, so that they were better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations that the world was throwing at them.

Kelly Denley - Almost PerfectGrowing up, Kelly Denley had dreamed of the perfect family, and of being the perfect mum, but as the mother of eight she discovered that almost perfect was actually just perfect enough.

A full-time wife and mother since the age of 17, by 31 Kelly Denley has lost sight of who she truly is. Postnatal depression takes its toll on Kelly, her father is given just a year to live, her husband is retrenched, one daughter is hospitalised and another on antidepressants and, in a final frightening development, her eldest boy, who suffers from Asperger’s, threatens suicide. Distraught, Kelly blames herself and knows that everything has to change. Concerned about her children’s school problems and behaviour, Kelly takes dramatic action, putting her university dream on hold so the family can travel Australia for a year in the hope that the experience will draw them closer together.

How Kelly tackles both the joy and pain that lie in wait, from discovering the beauty in nature she’d always been too busy to see and mastering the art of home-schooling in a tent, to nearly drowning in a flooded river and more heartache over her children, makes Almost Perfect an inspiring, moving, yet often hilarious rollercoaster ride of a memoir.

Denley not only conquered year 11 and 12 as a mature age student* so that she could get into university, but she did it with eight kids (two of whom had disabilities). After facing that challenge, and then having to face seeing her kids struggle at school when people couldn’t handle their differences, Denley set her sights higher. To save her family from falling apart, she took them on a year long camping trip around the gorgeous sights and sounds of Australia. Eight kids, two cars, one trailer. Home schooling, family arguments, financial crisis. It was by no means an easy year for the Denley’s, but the rewards that they reaped made it more than worth it.

*Check out this article for a little more information on Denley’s return to high school as a 33yr old woman with eight kids*

Denley tells her story without pretension. In every page, her love for her family is clear. The reader empathises with her battle with her weight, and cheers as she finally sheds her insulation. You can’t help but die a little inside reading about the struggle of her two eldest boys, suffering from Aspergers – the eldest of whom doesn’t even make it on their trip.

While the writing wasn’t always smooth or polished, it was the story that captivated me. Reading about the challenges that this family overcame is strengthening. Without the trip, who knows where the Denley’s would be. With it, they became a tight-knit family unit, dragging their feet to return to their old ‘normality’. Overcoming so many obstacles, the Denley story is an inspiration to us all; families should come before the rat race. Taking time out to get to know and connect with the most important people in one’s life is a paramount goal. The Denley family should be congratulated on their monumental achievements.

This book was hard to rate in a way. Denley wasn’t a polished writer as such, but her story was compelling. It was the story of an underdog, fighting for her family, and herself, in a world that doesn’t always want to accept the outsider. It was a story of triumph.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to have a little hope, or to any mother who is looking for a way to create the kind of family that every parent dreams about; close, happy and memorable (you can find it here). I wonder, after this huge step, where the Denley’s could go from here…

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Sophie Kinsella

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Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopoholic novel shot to fame after Isla Fisher played the role of Rebecca Bloomwood in the motion picture released in 2009. There is no doubt in my mind that the movie was fantastic. Hilarious. Isla Fisher was the perfect choice for the role, as were the supporting characters. I was excited to race out, buy the book that the movie was based on, and rip into it.

Sophia Kinsella - Confessions of a ShopaholicUnluckily for me, it was a waste of my time. In print, the characters were flat, and the scenes were dull. There was no life force in the novel that was bringing it to life in my imagination. I finished the book, as a book really has to be appalling to make me stop half way through. But I didn’t walk away with the buzz that finishing a good book usually gives you (or the sadness that comes with leaving an alternate reality behind). While there was nothing hugely wrong with the book – there were no grammatical errors or serious plot deficiencies – there was nothing outstanding.

For a long while, I attributed this to the novels’ being overshadowed by the movie. Surely, a book that was so well known that it spawned five sequels and was considered hugely popular must be good… Sophie Kinsella is a world-famous author!!

So, I read another of her books, The Undomestic Goddess. From the blurb, I was interested. Sure, it was a typical boy-meets-girl type novel (different setting, different names, different issues… you know how it is), but that is a tried and true formula for a good reason!

Sophia Kinsella - Undomestic GoddessMain character Samantha Sweeting is much more grounded and punchy than the wishy-washy Rebecca Bloomwood. Bonus points there. And I have always had a soft spot for transformation stories – and Sam’s metamorphosis from high-strung lawyer to domestic goddess definitely qualifies. More bonus points. However, the story still didn’t have the pizazz that I look for in a good chick novel. You see, what chick lit lacks in originality it is supposed to make up for with punch. This novel failed to do so.

After reading these two books, I’d have to say that Sophie Kinsella is relegated to ‘mediocre’ novelist in my mind. I won’t be re-reading these books anytime soon (although I’m sure I will be watching the movie again!), which isn’t a great sign.

Please, anyone who has jumped on the Kinsella bandwagon and found it to be the ride of their life, feel free to argue your point! And if you want to find out for yourself, you can find these books here and here.

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How to be Single – Liz Tuccillo

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Liz Tullico, author of He’s Just Not That Into You, and How to be Single is renowned for her female-empowering novels, and was an executive story editor for Sex and the City. HJNTIY (come on, give me the acronym, it’s a really long title) is now a major motion picture, with a star studded cast, including the lovely Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long. We all know how fantastic SATC is, I don’t have to sing any praises there. It was on the wave of this success that Tullico’s How to be Single hit the market.
Liz Tuccillo - How to be Single

I’ll admit that I haven’t read HJMTIY, although I have seen the movie and know the general plotline. When I read How to be Single, I thought that it would be a similar self-help type book, written from the point of view of a fictional character. It sounded quite bizzare, but as soon as I sunk my teeth into it, I knew it was more than a platitudinous ‘be happy with who you are’ airport novel.

Protagonist Julie Jenson has had enough with bad dates, failed relationships and girls nights out on the town that end in the emergency room. Julie is the pioneer for her group of friends, all of whom are having an awful single time. So, she sets out to find answers. Taking one for the team, she takes leave from her job and travels to Iceland, Brazil, India, Beijing, Bali, Paris, Australia, Rome and Rio de Janeiro. She seeks out single men and women to figure out how they handle the single lifestyle. Interspersing stories from Julie’s single friends back in the USA, How to be Single combines chick literature with travel writing. Excellent combination, if you ask me.

This book was incredibly engaging. Not only did Tucillo provide insight into many different cultures in the world, and how their people interact with each other, but the uplifting stories that are shared by the characters that Julie meets leave the single girl less despairing about the single life. Apparently, people in other countries handle being single with way less drama than Australians, Americans and the English. Who knew?

The characters in the novel would be easily be described as four dimensional if that was a real thing. Slightly crazed post-divorce Georgia, dating-for-a-living (literally) Alice, Serena who is taking the swami pledge to find enlightenment and Ruby who has been mourning her cat for months… any reader can find something of themselves in one of these girls.

Tucillo writes with humour, and straight-forwardly takes us around the world on a journey to find single satisfaction. Just the right amount of tough love and sensitivity. This book isn’t going to make you want to kill yourself for being single, nor is it going to make you take a lifelong vow of celibacy. It will, however, make you laugh and teach you a little something about not taking yourself too seriously.

This book was fantastic. Well done, Liz. This book is on my must-read list. If I’ve convinced you, you can get yourself a copy here.

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The Litigators – John Grisham

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The Litigators - John Grisham
A little behind the eight ball, I’ve never read a John Grisham novel. So, I had high expectations when I picked up The Litigators – and I wasn’t disappointed. Grisham has made what could be considered a very dry topic into a page-turner, with some humour thrown in for good measure. Not an easy task, when your subject matter includes in-depth research, client interviewing, and filing numerous court documents.

The novel centres around the ‘boutique’ (re: dodgy) law firm of Finley & Figg. Oscar Finley and Wally Figg essentially spend their time chasing ambulances, and waiting for their ‘big break’, while bickering like school children over client fees, ethics, and whether or not advertising on bingo cards is a good idea. They look set to spend another decade scraping through, until David Zinc waltzes through their door, blind drunk. David was, until ten hours earlier, a lawyer at one of the top firms in the city. However, that morning, he’d had an epiphany and realised that being on the fast (and exhausting) track was killing him – so he’d walked out and spent the rest of the day at a bar. When a drunk David sees Oscar and Wally in action, he knows where he wants to start his legal career over again.

Not long after David arrives, Wally stumbles upon what he believes is the big break they’ve all been looking for. Popular drug ‘Krayoxx’ is suspected of causing heart attacks in its patients, and suing the pharmaceutical company could mean millions for Finley & Figg. All Wally needs to do is find a few clients who are willing to sue, and then he can ride the coat tails of the national class action all the way to fame and fortune. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple, and the trio of lawyers are soon in way over their heads.

Grisham managed to make this novel a page-turner, predominantly because of the interesting, though not always likeable, characters. Where David is a straight-laced family man, with an idealistic view of life outside of a giant corporate law firm, Wally is a schemer always looking to make money, and Oscar is like a strict father figure who is constantly exasperated about Wally’s antics. The storyline was good, but it was somewhat predictable that Wally’s plan wouldn’t go off without a hitch, so I wouldn’t really consider it a legal thriller, as the cover said it would be. That said, I couldn’t put the book down because I really wanted to know whether they’d manage to wriggle out of all their troubles.

As a lawyer-to-be, I was particularly interested in this storyline. With no real idea of what being an actual lawyer in a class action is like, I enjoyed reading about life in the ‘real’ legal world. Yes, it was a fiction novel, and Australian law isn’t exactly like what we see on American TV, or in American books, but it still makes the profession look exciting and worthwhile. After five years of writing essays and attending lectures, it’s reassuring to think that our careers may be something like those of the lawyers at Finley & Figg… though hopefully less chaotic.

If this book piques your interest, you can get it cheaply (and with free postage!) here.

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