Friday, February 20, 2015

Review and Giveaway: The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell

The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell is set in Cornwall where Sophie works as a photographer. Happy to be building her new business, Sophie seems content but lives a very narrow life. She has completely shut herself off to dating and the heartache in her past that has led to this is slowly revealed. Josh Strachan, who has returned from the US to the seaside town to help run a hotel, Mariscombe House,  with his grandmother, pursues Sophie and tries to break through her shell. Meanwhile, Sophie's friend Tula has moved from Birmingham and is working at the hotel. Unlike Sophie, Tula is in constant pursuit of love and romance. She is especially interested in Josh even though he barely notices her while he focuses on Sophie.

  My Thoughts
I always find Jill Mansell's books entertaining and love to sink into them - this one was no exception. I felt as if I was transported to Cornwall while I read and became engrossed in the lives of Sophie, Tula, Josh and the other cast of characters. The main character, Sophie,  and her story interested me most. The event in her past that has led to her reluctance to open herself to love is gradually revealed in a series of flashback scenes and deepens the readers understanding of Sophie. Meanwhile, Tula provides comic relief - she is much more lighthearted than Sophie and continually finds herself in scrapes. Sophie, Tula and Josh are supported by a cast of characters that includes Josh's grandparents who have an interesting relationship; Riley, a fun-loving playboy who pursues Tula and Riley's Aunt Marguerite who is a temperamental, self-involved author.

The author expertly weaves the multiple story lines together - there are just enough connections between these characters to make their story cohesive without seeming contrived.  If you haven't read a book by Jill Mansell yet this is a good one to start with - it includes her hallmarks of a cast of characters and an enjoyable story of found love.  If  you are already a fan of the author, like me, this latest book doesn't disappoint!


The publisher is offering a giveaway of the book and you can enter it here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: Girl Before Mirror by Liza Palmer

In Girl Before Mirror by Liza Palmer, Anna Wyatt is fighting to make her mark in the world of advertising. Relegated to smaller accounts with a target audience of women only, Anna is frustrated as she bumps up against the glass ceiling. She is also facing challenges in her personal life - at forty with a failed marriage behind her, Anna has been on a "time out" from romance and dating but she is starting to realize that, as with her professional life, she is going to have to go after what she wants to get a different outcome. When she is introduced to a self-help book, "Be The Heroine, Find Your Hero", it plays a role in bringing her professional success -but not in the way you expect. As she buys into the Be The Heroine philosophy, she realizes it translates into her own personal life and she begins to combat her long held beliefs about her worth and whether she can risk much to win in love. 

Anna Wyatt grew up with a demanding father and a mother who virtually ignored her children. Anna took care of her younger brother, Ferdie, and tried to provide him with the love she never received from her parents. This upbringing left her with some well-established guards which limit her in her relationships. Following her divorce from a husband to whom she never opened up, Anna has placed herself on a dating sabbatical and essentially opted out altogether. When she looks around the table at her birthday dinner, however, she realizes she wants more than she is getting out of this opt-out approach and the germ of change is planted.

Professionally, Anna is also frustrated by being limited in the ad agency to only small accounts with products focused on women. She sets her sights on Quincy Pharmaceuticals and sees an in road via a neglected body wash that has not been actively promoted by the company. She drafts a proposal that ties into the "Be The Heroine, Find Your Hero" theme and gets an audience with the team that manages the product at Quincy. Her proposal resonates and Anna finds herself at the Romance Writers Conference working the connections with her proposed ad campaign. By focusing on a theme that resonated with her and articulated what many women feel, Anna has landed on professional success.  She also finds a love interest at the conference in Lincoln Mallory, a Brit visiting the hotel for business. Lincoln challenges all of Anna's well-established guards and she struggles to take the chance that she knows will bring her success in her personal life.

My Thoughts
I am a fan of Liza Palmer's books - Conversations with the Fat Girl and Seeing Me Naked are two of my favorites. I remember underlining passages in both books because I felt they perfectly expressed my own thoughts and reflections.  I found myself doing the same with this book - Anna's struggles with self-confidence and living safely rather than pursuing what she really wants are so well captured by the author and I suspect will resonate for many women. There were times, however, that I felt this book covered too much ground - there was the story line about Anna's campaign for Quincy, story line about her relationship with Lincoln and then the story line about Ferdie. Each was rich but I felt the book could have been better with a focus on only two out of the three. This was not my favorite book by the author but does have her dialogue laced with humor and wry observations.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Audiobook Review: Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming: Alan Cumming is a Scottish actor who currently plays Eli Gould on The Good Wife and stars in the Broadway production of Cabaret. This book, however, is not about his life as an actor or how he found his calling to act - it is about his tortured relationship with his father who physically and emotionally abused him throughout his childhood. At times difficult to listen to, the book is raw and insightful and ultimately, quite brave.

Alan Cumming is the youngest son of Mary Darling and Alec Cumming and, with his older brother Tom, grew up in Scotland on an estate for which his father was the caretaker. His father was stern and had high expectations of both boys but seemed to reserve his greatest ire for young Alan. In talking about his childhood, Alan Cumming describes fearing his father and how the family walked on eggshells expecting the next outburst. His father often put the boys to work around the estate doing very manual labor and then criticizing the work they did including physically beating them when it was not to standard. In the rare moments when Alan got to act like a child such as when he rode his bike through the village, he recognized how little of that happiness was in his daily life and how he lived with a pervasive anxiety. He repressed that through much of his life but as an adult, its effects began to become obvious and he could no longer ignore it.

As the book begins, Alan is about to appear on the British version of Who Do You Think You Are? and the producers are going through his family tree looking for a line/story to follow. When his father learns of this, he worries that they will discover his secret so he abruptly discloses to Alan that he is not his real father and that Alan was conceived following a dalliance by his mother. At this point, Alan's relationship with his father was non-existent but this news rocks him and prompts him to re-examine what he thought to be true about his father and their difficult relationship. Interestingly, the show actually ended up exploring Alan's mother's family and focuses on Alan's grandfather. Through that, Alan discovers his Grandfather also had secrets and discovers parallels between the his own life and that of his Grandfather.

My Thoughts
At times, this book was difficult to listen to - I could feel my own chest tightening as Alan recounted the cruel words his father spat at him or the blows he struck. There is a tenderness in how he tells the story because, despite all the therapy he has obviously been through to cope with his history, there is still a rawness to his emotions and he has insights which are revelatory.  I thought the story line of the work on Who Do You Think You Are? provided a nice counterbalance to the conflict with his father. It is also emotional but in a different way and I looked forward to the revelations in that story line. After listening to the book, I actually watched Alan Cumming's episode on the show and it was interesting to see what I had listened to played out on the screen and see expressions on his face which he had described in the book.

The book is read by the author and I enjoyed his Scottish accent but more than that I appreciated the authenticity of the reading of a memoir that only an author can bring to the production. In addition, Cumming is a trained stage actor and his professionalism comes through in the reading of the audiobook. All in all, although his story is very painful, his journey through it is a triumph and provides hope. Definitely recommend.