Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Millie's Fling, by Jill Mansell. A Review by Debra

I must admit that while waiting for my booksfree.com order to arrive, I grew impatient and visited the local library, only to take out about a dozen contemporary romances with which to pass the long holiday weekend. Millie's Fling by Jill Mansell, an author I had not yet read, was the first one I opened. I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The story takes place in the town of Newquay, Cornwall. It's the story of the friendship that arises between Bridget Jones-like protagonist Millie Brady and famous novelist, Orla Hart, who Millie happens to save from jumping off a cliff upon the discovery of her husband's infidelity. Orla, suffering from a career block as well as a cheating husband, decides to use Millie's single life as the basis for her new novel. Despite Millie's protests to the contrary, her life in Newquay is far from boring.  She and her roommate, Hester, find a wallet, and from there, the fun begins.  The wallet belongs to Hugh Emerson, a recently widowed, stunningly gorgeous thirty year old who becomes the fling in the title, because according to Hugh, that's all he'll ever be capable of. Or so he thinks. Millie keeps Hugh a secret from Orla. He's too important to relegate to a novel.  And while Hugh is dithering, unknowing Orla decides to spice up Millie's life and get things rolling with the goal of spicing up her book as well. She's filled with good intentions, but the men she fixes Millie up with are in turn, horribly boring or totally inappropriate. Millie makes the best of each situation, while waiting for the one man she's found on her own to decide their fate.

Packed with lovable secondary characters like Lucas Kemp and Nat, Hester's past and present loves, Orla's sleezy husband Giles, Con, the famous actor with a secret, and Millie's divorced parents, Millie's Fling transports you to the Cornwall coast, and makes you feel like you are among friends. When Millie finds the love of her life, you'll feel like standing up and cheering. I read this book in about 8 hours, no small feat for 500+ pages on a work day. That should give you an idea of how good it really is.

Jill Mansell writes with attitude, quick wit and more than a little love for her characters. I've already "queued-up" for her next books. I love hitting the jackpot with an author I've never read before.  Pick this one up, it's good for a laugh and more than one cry.  And you'll be as sorry as I was when I got to page 506.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Bachelor and Spinster Ball, by Janet Gover. A Review by Donna

Farwell Creek is a dry, dusty place – just a tiny hamlet in the middle of the drought stricken Australian outback. Once Bec O’Donnell and Nick Price, best friends and young lovers, planned on living happily ever after in Farwell Creek, but unfortunately real life got in the way of young dreams. Bec left her hometown for the big city and Nick stayed behind working a farm that was no longer his. And when they're brought back together by the sudden, tragic death of the parents of their best friend Hailey, Nic and Bec find their teenage promise to be as distant as the rain. With nothing to offer, Nick refuses to act on the feelings he still has for Bec, and tired of waiting for Nick to acknowledge that he even cares she’s come home, Bec reluctantly turns her attentions elsewhere.

After a small, but potentially dangerous fire in town, it becomes obvious, at least to mover and shaker Bec, that the town is in dire need of its own bona fide bush fire brigade - complete with a fire truck, no less. But how best to raise the exorbitant amount of money this will cost? The answer comes in the form of Terry "people call me Gordo" Gordon - a tall, blond, handsome stranger who calmly and rather self-indulgently suggests a Bachelor and Spinster ball. But no one in the Creek knows what a B&S really is, much less how to organize one, so Gordo suggests Bec accompany him to such a ball in a neighboring town. Now Nick is clearly jealous, Bec’s mother Jean is more angry than usual, and Hailey is far beyond just a little concerned. But Bec is intrigued – not only with the idea of a ball, but apparently with the man who suggested it.

The events of the story swirl around the organization of the ball. While Hailey finds her happiness with the leader of the band they’ve hired, Bec and Nick continually butt heads as they try to make sense of their lingering feelings. Bec can’t deny she’s attracted to the flashy Gordo, but she still longs to have Nick look at her just once the way he used to. And Nick? He’s busy berating himself for being nothing more than a hired hand on his father’s old farm. Nick stubbornly and quite mistakenly believes he has to make something of himself before telling Bec what he’s feeling. And then he suddenly realizes that perhaps he’s waited just a little too long.  Will he ever be able to come to terms with losing Bec for good?

Fast paced and well-written, The Bachelor and Spinster Ball provides a glimpse into everyday life in the remote Australian outback. And despite wanting to clout Nick over the head a number of times, I really enjoyed the characters – and how, just like in any small town, they care about - and for - each other.  Highly recommended, The Bachelor and Spinster Ball is yet another excellent offering from Janet Gover and Little Black Dress.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And Then He Kissed Her, by Laura Lee Guhrke. A Review by Debra

It's always gratifying when a student leads a teacher to something new. One of Bookishly's star protegees found this author and recommended that we read her work. As usual, our teaching comes full circle. This author is good. Very, very good. And the student gets an A.

And Then He Kissed Her is the story of Harrison Robert Marlowe, viscount and man of business in this year of 1893. He is an owner of several newspapers and publishing houses and he employs a female secretary, Emma Dove, to keep his life tidy, his businesses humming and his mistresses in line.

Emma has worked for Harry  for five years, and for just about as long, has tried to get Harry to publish her etiquette for "girl-bachelor" books. Rejection after rejection ensues, and finally, after finding out that Harry has been a bit less than honest in his critique of her writing, she quits his employ and sells her work to his competitor. Unbeknownst to Emma, Harry has been working to buy his rival's newspaper, and once again, Emma finds herself on Harry's payroll, but this time,  with an important difference. She is  no longer his secretary; due to the popularity of her etiquette column, she is now Harry's star attraction and chief money-maker.

With their relationship on a more equal professional footing, Harry gains a new respect for Emma, and that respect starts to drift in an entirely new and not unwelcome direction. Emma realizes that Harry may be the most commitment-phobic man in Great Britain, but she decides life is too short to squander a good thing, and conventions of the day aside, they begin a torrid affair.

Ms. Gurhke writes with a wry sense of humor and a snappy style that keeps the story flowing. She interjects enough details of the Victorian era to give the reader an excellent feel for the times, and the unusual nature of both Harry and Emma's actions. We get a fairly good idea of the attitudes and opinions of the changing mores at the end of the 19th century, when money and the making of it starts to usurp the old order of the Peers of the Realm. And we also get a glimpse of the changing attitudes towards  marriage, divorce and a woman's employment outside the home. All of this is wrapped up in a fairly wonderful love story that will leave  you clamoring for a sequel.  Or an epilogue at the very least.

I have a few more of this author's writing on order. I have my "student" to thank for her recommendation. She is definitely a very quick study.