‘In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Reves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the reveurs - the dreamers. At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter's daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer's apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, they find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love...A fabulous, fin-de-siecle feast for the senses and a life-affirming love story, The Night Circus is a captivating novel that will make the real world seem fantastical and a fantasy world real.’
When two powerful magicians decide to pit their apprentices, Celia and Marco, against one another they choose the Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) as the battleground. Le Cirque de Reves never announces where it will be next, but simply appears and opens every night until dawn, and disappears again a few days later. Its devotees, known as reveurs, follow it everywhere, whilst it’s amazing performers, of whom Celia is one, produce seemingly impossible illusions and feats of agility. The circus becomes ever more astounding as the apprentices’ spells become tangled up amongst it, creating amazing exhibits such as a garden made totally of ice and a wishing tree. But few realise how much is at risk as Celia and Marco’s deadly contest draws to its long-awaited conclusion – one of them must die, yet the bond the pair have formed means that neither is prepared to let the other go and they determine to find a way out of their impossible situation.
This debut by authoress Erin Morgenstern left me practically speechless; it was frankly ingenious. The delightful dream-like quality to parts of the book created brilliant mystery and ambiance, and setting the book around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century really was a lovely touch.
Intoxicatingly beautiful, Morgenstern’s writing has a delicate touch, making it flow beautifully and elegantly. The story had me firmly in its clutches from the start, and didn’t loosen its grip once. I adored the concept of the circus itself, and the way that it was manipulated by the contestants. The descriptions of the exhibits they create were wonderful and I was also very impressed by the characters’ costumes, described by the author in intricate detail and invoking something of the colourful performers who wore them.
The vast array of characters connected to the circus were a delight to experience, but the story belonged to the young apprentices; their battle, and the love that grows between them. I really felt for Celia and Marco: they’re tied into a contest that neither of them agreed to and aren’t completely sure the rules of, let alone what they have to do to either win or lose. All they really know is there’s no way out of the arrangement and no possibility of a happy ending.
Utterly absorbing and original, this tale is an absolutely astounding debut from a clearly very talented authoress. I defy anyone not to wish, just a little, to be able to run off and join this circus.
‘Everybody’s talking – but what’s really going on?
Rumour has it that Stella Hutton landed her new job thanks to family connections. She’s guarded about her past and private about her new life.
Over in Long Dansbury, there’s always a rumour circulating about Xander – but the eligible bachelor shrugs off village gossip.
Then a rumour starts that Longbridge Hall is up for sale. Home to the eccentric Fortescues, it has dominated Long Dansbury lives for centuries.
Stella is summoned to sell the estate. But Xander grew up there. His secrets and memories are not for sale. He’ll do anything to stand in Stella’s way. Anything but fall in love.’
When single-mum Stella moves to Lower Dansbury to take up a job offer at her Uncle’s estate agents, she’s determined to make a new start and put the failure of her marriage and her art gallery business behind her. It’s not long before Stella is put to the test when she’s given the task of a selling Longbridge Hall, a stately home owned by the indomitable Lady Lydia. But standing in Stella’s way is Xander, a handsome bachelor, who grew up at Longbridge and is determined to thwart the estate’s sale. However, it’s hard for Xander to fight Stella when he finds himself falling in love with her.
For me ‘Rumours’ was definitely driven by its strong characters, of which Lady Lydia was the shining star. I was intrigued by her from the word go, she was an absolutely superb character, and I just adored seeing her interacting with, well, everyone really! She was a peculiar prickly thing, but I immediately warmed to her, and loved how her inner character was uncovered little by little. Her scenes with Stella’s son Will were particularly touching.
Perhaps the only slightly weak character in this tale was its heroine: Stella was very nice, but I would have liked her to have a tad more gumption. I could understand why she quickly became so attached to Longbridge and its inhabitants, and thought she resolved the sale of the house very well, coming up with a solution that suited everyone and providing an entry for a couple of new, very funny characters into the story.
I was a little disappointed with the love story between Stella and Xander. Xander was just so boring bless him! The man seemed obsessed with staying in with some fish and chips, and had a desperately dull job. He doesn’t even own his house! He is not a catch! I also would have preferred more drama with the pair coming together. I didn’t feel that I really got to the bottom of either of the couple’s previous partners that played a large part in why they’d supposedly be anxious about starting a new relationship. As it was, with the information I had, I couldn’t really see much bad history standing in their way at all!
Having said all this, in my opinion, Freya North is one of the finest writers around today, and, although I have been a little critical of this book, this is only because I expect so much from this terribly accomplished writer. Despite some small niggles, ‘Rumours’ had the lovely North touch, which kept me engrossed and happily neglecting house, pets, husband and children until I’d completed reading it, and it’s charming ending left me very satisfied.
‘Three glamorous actresses gliding through a life lived on the silver screen. One Hollywood Blockbuster. An intricate web of passionate pasts, addictions, lovers and secrets, perfect for fans of Lesley Lokko and Adriana Trigiani. Rose Nightingale is an Australian actress still recovering from a bad marriage. Sapphira De Mont is the world,s most beautiful movie star, but hides a secret addiction and a broken heart. Calypso Gable is a young star on the rise trying to escape her mum-manager,s clutches. As they come together on set in the Italian hills, they find out more about one another - and about themselves - than they ever thought possible. An intricate web of passionate pasts, addictions, lovers and secrets, perfect for fans of Lesley Locko and Adriana Trigiani.’
When the three famous actresses Rose Nightingale, Sapphira De Mont and Calypso Gable come together to film a movie in Italy, their unexpected experiences change their lives forever.
First up is Rose, who appears to have it all, but is lonely following her divorce and fiercely protective of a secret from her past. Then there’s the extremely beautiful Sapphiral, a woman careful to keep everyone at a distance, and for good reason. The last of our trio is Calypso, a young actress in awe of her co-stars, hoping to use the trip to escape her controlling mother. Love, revelations and new friendship await the ladies as they head off on their Italian adventure.
Forster’s narrative was fast-paced and light with a nice mix of heroines, meaning there was something for everyone. I was, however, a little surprised at the relatively small amount of interaction between the female leads: the author clearly chooses to focus on romantic relationships rather than friendships
Obviously these protagonists aren’t your average run-of-the-mill girls next door, and a lot of what happens to them is far more glamorous than most people’s realities. I didn’t have a problem with this at all, and actually would have quite enjoyed it, if it hadn’t been for Sapphira’s ending. Not wanting to give any spoilers, but her finale was just so irresponsible given what she’d been through, that I didn’t feel it could in any way be considered the happy ever after Forster is obviously aiming for.
Also, each of the leads treated the men in their lives completely appallingly in my opinion, and what disappointed me was that their actions seemed, in the story at least, to be considered completely acceptable. A prime example was Calpyso’s desertion of the man who loves her, and refusal to even answer his calls, until that is she wants him back and then he’s expected to fall in line. And unbelievably he does!
If you’re willing to embrace the fantasy completely, and allow yourself to be taken in by the exciting and entertaining storyline, then you should enjoy this novel. Whilst not perhaps the most original or thought-provoking of books, ‘The Perfect Location’ is a very light, but absorbing read, great for on the beach or to make a long journey pass quickly.
‘When Tansy Poole inherits a run-down shoe shop tucked away in the village of Sticklepond, 'Cinderella’s Slippers, is born - providing the footwear to make any fairytale wedding come true...Carrying everything a bride would want to walk down the aisle in, Tansy’s shop soon expands to carry shoe-themed wedding favours, bridesmaid gifts and even delicious chocolate shoes. It’s the dream destination for any shoe-lover! If only everything in her personal life could be as heavenly - but with a fiance trying to make her fit into a size 8 wedding dress, not to mention the recent discovery of disturbing family revelations, Tansy takes refuge in the shop’s success. But one man isn’t thrilled by the stream of customers hot-footing it to Cinderella’s Slippers...Actor Ivo Hawksley, resident of the cottage next to the shop, is troubled by a dark secret in his past and has come to Sticklepond to nurse his own broken heart. However, Ivo realises that he and Tansy have a link in their past and soon, they both find out how secrets shared can make a very strong bond indeed...Forget the Jimmy Choos, Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues is the only accessory you need for spring 2012...’
When Tansy inherits a run-down shoe shop in the village of Sticklepond, she transforms it into ‘Cinderella’s Slippers’, a beautiful haven specialising in bridal footwear. Kept busy juggling running the new business with looking after a crazy dog, delving into family history and fending off the advances of her ex-fiancé, Tansy’s life certainly isn’t made any easier by her grouchy and noise intolerant next-door-neighbour, Ivo Hawksley. Ivo’s an actor, and an old flame of Tansy’s, who’s taking some time off from the theatre following the death of his wife. Depressed and reclusive, Ivo needs help, and it turns out that maybe Tansy is just the woman to aid him in putting his past to rest.
This is actually the second book Trisha Ashley has based in the fictional town of Sticklepond – the first being ‘Chocolate Kisses’. And I’m sure fans will be very pleased to have a chance to revisit old friends here.
I liked Trisha’s style of writing very much: it was fresh and relaxed, with a comfortable pace. Her characterisation was good and believable, with a good mix of people blending together beautifully. As for the heroine herself: well, she was certainly down-to-Earth and very likeable, but to be honest she was also a little boring: all she does is work, bake and walk the dog! What I really wanted was for her to stand up to her evil step-sisters, and properly expose them for the awful women they are! I didn’t feel that the pair received their clearly deserved comeuppance.
The hero, Ivo, was very amusing and such a grump! I enjoyed seeing him gradually thawing as he was won over by Tansy’s cakes, dog and kind character. However, I did find his endless Shakespeare quotations a little wearing after a while.
Sadly, I felt that certain parts of the story were glossed over far too quickly and easily – the potential retail park that threatens Tansy’s business, for example, is built up, but then collapses in the space of a few lines. Then there was the ‘great family secret’ that Tansy spends much of the book delving in, which turns out to be somewhat obvious and not really worth the effort!
‘Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Shoes’ was my first Trisha Ashley experience, and I rather enjoyed it. Though a little predictable, it was a very comforting read, and left me feeling all aglow and at peace with the world. It had real feel-good factor, that made for perfect escapism, and I found myself swiftly immersed in the townlife of Sticklepond, and then rather reluctant to leave!
P.S. In the interests of extremely thorough research, I followed a recipe in the back of the book to make ‘Fat Rascals’ – unbelievably good!
‘When the stresses of being an A-list actress get too much for her, Connie Gordon decides to escape to a tiny Scottish village. But little does she realise that whilst Lochnabrae might be quiet, it's far from sleepy...
The latest charming novel from chick-lit's answer to Richard Curtis.
Beautiful, rich, famous -- and seriously stressed, actress Connie Gordon is ready for a change. Deciding to accept an invitation from her fan club in Scotland, Connie kisses goodbye to her ex-boyfriends, stalkers and double-crossing agents, and prepares herself for complete relaxation.
But swapping the Hollywood Hills for the Highlands of Scotland doesn't make for the easiest of transitions and, when she meets local playwright, Alastair McInnes, who's sworn he'll never become involved with another actress again, sparks fly, and the sleepy village of Lochnabrae will never be the same again.
The Runaway Actress is a romantic comedy about friends, fans and family, and finding a place that you can call home.’
Hollywood actress Connie Gordon has had enough of having her life run by her agent, working all the time, and not even being allowed to eat what she wants. On a whim she decides to escape from LA for a while, and travels to Lochanbrae, a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands, and the base for Connie’s unofficial fan club.
Connie is very warmly welcomed by all the villagers, particularly by Maggie, who runs the local shop and Connie’s fan club. To begin with, Connie struggles to find her place amongst the locals, but her culture shock is eased when she meets handsome local playwright, Alastair, who it seems may want Ms Gordon to be his own leading lady.
I must admit to being a little perplexed as to why a woman who wants to get away from her life as a Hollywood actress would decide to run away to the home of her fan club, but I did love reading about Lochnabrae. The village contained some brilliant characters, and I liked how they all muddled along together, especially during the rehearsals for the play they’re going to put on. It was endearing how they really banded together to protect Connie from unwanted press attention, and they seemed to give her more confidence in herself. I was very entertained by the episode where Connie disguises herself as a man to throw a local reporter off her tracks, and then pretends to be Maggie’s boyfriend - a prime example of just how talented the author is as a comedic writer.
It was a shame that I felt I didn’t really get to know much about Maggie, despite her playing a pretty major role in the story. At times she just seemed to be someone for Connie to talk at or help, which helped to develop Connie’s character, but not Maggie’s. I also didn’t really understand her continued crush on mechanic Mikey, who seemed a bit of a no-hoper to me. I would have rathered that her relationship with Connie had shown Maggie she can do better than someone who seems chronically unreliable and has never paid her the slightest bit of attention.
Having thoroughly enjoyed reading Victoria Connelly’s trilogy about Jane Austen addicts, I was looking forward to getting stuck into this book, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed; Connelly’s trade-mark light touch and gentle humour were still there, with the added benefit that she seemed to let herself go a little with the characterisation of some of the more eccentric villagers.
Sweet, funny and romantic, with a couple of unexpected twists along the way, ‘The Runaway Actress’ is well worth a read, and will leave you longing to have your own adventures in the Scottish Highlands!
‘A Border Collie, after becoming homeless, searches for a family to love. After many weeks of adventure and living the life of a homeless dog, Shales is finally adopted by a family who loves him. As he comes to love his new family, there comes the burden of coping with his family's tragedies, scandals, and their eventual decline into old age. His loyalty to those he loves is heart warming, and Shales reminds us that dogs have a deep desire to love and be loved. Beautifully written, Forever Shales is set in the latter years of 19th century England, with real-life characters and genuine locations. At times humorous and at times serious, Shales will entertain you and guide you through Victorian England and its lifestyle of a bygone era.’
Set in late 19th century England, ‘Forever Shales’ is a book for young adults following the life of a border collie named Shales and the family he lives with.
Told from Shales’ viewpoint, this lovely historical novel really is ‘Black Beauty’ for dog lovers. I particularly enjoyed the early chapters with our lead canine working out just what was expected of him by the humans, and attempting to keep his exuberant puppy temperament in check. There was a very sweet episode with a fan needing attacking that made me smile.
Berkeley’s descriptions of both landscapes and architecture are very good, and she manages to capture the feel of 19th century England in her writing. The author is obviously very knowledgeable about this period of history, and this shows in the effortless way that the day to day life of the dog and his family is conveyed.
Although Shales’ adventures are fictional, there is a large element of the writer’s family history in this tale. Very cleverly, Berkeley has researched her own ancestors and uses these genuine people from the era in her story, adding fictional padding and characters where necessary.
I loved the artwork in the book, particularly the beautifully drawn maps, and the list of characters at the beginning was very helpful – there really are a lot of them!
Whilst very well-written and extremely enjoyable, I can’t help but worry that the slightly old-fashioned feel to the story, and subtle cover, will mean this is a book bought for teenagers by the adults that love it rather than by the children themselves. I hope I’m wrong in this theory, and that plenty of young people give ‘Forever Shales’ a chance and allow themselves the opportunity to enjoy this delightful, very absorbing tale.
4 and a half stars
"'Do you still love him?' Every second of every minute of every hour of every day...Alice is18 and about to start university while Joe's life is seemingly going nowhere. A Dorset summer, a chance meeting, and the two of them fall into step as if they have known each other forever. But their idyll is shattered, suddenly, unexpectedly. Alice heads off to Cambridge and slowly picks up the pieces of her broken heart. Joe is gone; she cannot find him. When she catches the attention of Lukas - gorgeous, gifted, rich boy Lukas - she is carried along by his charm, swept up in his ambitious plans for a future together. Then Joe is there, once more, but out of reach in a way that Alice could never have imagined. Life has moved on, the divide between them is now so great. Surely it is far too late to relive those perfect summer days of long ago?”
When Alice visits Dorset before starting university, she has no idea she’ll meet Joe, the love of her life. Within days the pair are head over heels for each other and, though she only knows Joe for a matter of weeks before he suddenly disappears, Alice is certain she’ll love him forever. Whilst at university, Alice carries on the search for Joe, but to no avail. Heartbroken, Alice meets wealthy, handsome Lukas, and resolves to move on with her life. She allows herself to be carried along with Lukas’ plans for their future, but never forgets her first love. Finally, after several years, the lovers find each other again, and Alice must choose between Joe and Lukas. Will she decide to resurrect the magic of that long ago summer?
‘One Perfect Summer’ is Paige’s sixth novel, and is very in keeping with her previous works. Her light tone and obvious compassion for her leading ladies make her writing really stand out. Specialising in love triangles, which she utilises very well, Paige often keeps the reader guessing until the very last moment as to the outcome of the characters’ tangled romantic lives. This was particularly the case with ‘Johnny Be Good’, and is a plot device the author uses again, and quite successfully, in this book.
Toon sets the narrative in Cambridge (where she now lives), and has obviously done her research on the area. However, at times I felt there was a little too much local information – it seemed a little unnecessary and slowed down the story. But I did like Alice’s punting job: it was interesting and unusual and obviously very in keeping with the setting.
The first part of the novel was very sweet, and I loved how Alice and Joe’s relationship developed, but the story does swiftly become quite dark in places. Joe then disappears and is missing for the vast majority of the book, which I found a little peculiar as he is the hero of the piece. But having said that, Toon does do a good job of reminding the reader of Joe’s existence at regular intervals.
Unfortunately, I felt the story’s ending appeared very abruptly - I thought there was still plenty of action to go! I missed having a proper ‘completeness’ to the story and was left feeling a little dissatisfied. There just didn’t seem any time for Alice to get to know Joe again before she was deciding between her two love interests, so how could the reader be sure the character was making the right decision?
I did enjoy the book, but probably not quite as much as Toon’s other novels. I detested Lukas, and couldn’t for the life of me understand why Alice was with him - he really wasn’t a worthy rival to Joe, and also felt confused by Lukas’ relationship with his ex-girlfriend: did he still have feelings for her? I just didn’t know. Another issue for me was that so much of the story took place when Alice is very young. Whilst this worked for me in ‘Pictures of Lily’, here it just didn’t sit and I found I simply wasn’t that interested in such a young character.
Paige Toon has a lovely, relaxed style, which makes her books very enjoyable. She writes heroines who are simply addictive to read about, and whom I always form a strong bond with. For me, ‘One Perfect Summer’ did have some flaws, but was a great story and kept me intrigued until the last page.
3 and a half stars