Category Archives: Chicklit

The Lemon Tree Cafe #BookReview

Book: The Lemon Tree Cafe
Author: Cathy Bramley

Cathy Bramley is a familiar author. I had read The Plumberry School of Comfort Food and loved it. That’s why it was with a sense of happy anticipation that I started on The Lemon Tree Cafe. I expected a sweet romance with a generous dose of food (going by the title). And I did get that, but was that enough to make it a good read? Do read on to find out.

You might also like The Plumberry School of Comfort Food by the same author.

The Story

Rosie Featherstone is a high-flying social media professional. When she’s asked to airbrush a model’s picture she refuses to do so and quits her job. At a bit of a lose end, she begins to assist her Nonna (that’s her maternal grandmother) who owns a small village cafe. In the process she not only rediscovers her Italian roots but also heals her deepest wound even as she unravels some dark secrets of her Nonna’s past.

What I liked

I’ve already said the book had all my favourite ingredients.

The very setting makes it a winner

The tinkle of bells at the Cafe door announcing a customer, the smell of herbs and coffee and freshly baked cookies, a sunny conservatory full of lemon trees – I could see exactly why it would seem like a safe haven to Rosie.

Then there’s village life with it’s close-knit community

…that’s warm and sweet, the quiet ease of it, where everyone knows everyone, where people accept each other’s quirks. Idyllic, right? Specially after the hustle of Rosie’s city job. I liked the way the community comes together to take on Garden Warehouse, the giant chain of stores that threatens all their businesses. And also how they reach harmony in the end.

And of course there was food

Hot Espresso and Blueberry Crumble Cake, freshly baked Pizza and Panini sandwiches. Delicious!

The side characters were endearing

….though one too many. What’s better, however, was that some of them who were side characters in Plumberry took centre stage here. I love when that happens.

Most importantly, the book attempts to tackle the very relevant concept of consent.

What didn’t work for me

After I finished the book I found out that this was first published as a four-part ebook. I presume some of the hiccups that I found in the storyline resulted from that format. 

Parts of the story that were completely irrelevant to the plot

It seemed like these ideas were put into the narrative but then the author forgot to take them forward leaving them half-baked and hanging. They could have been completely removed without affecting the story.

There was a bit of a scene where Rosie’s sister Lia lashes out at her in a fit of sibling rivalry. There were no indications of it coming on and no indications of it afterwards too. It just seemed unnecessary.

There was another part where Rosie finds two of Nonna’s ‘trusted’ helps stealing from the till. The author does offer some justification but it in no way helped along the narrative. If they did need the money they could have approached Rosie, if not Nonna. However, they go on working at the Cafe as if the incident hadn’t happen.

Lack of consistency in the characters

This is a related issue also probably stemming from the the fact that the book was written in parts. For instance in the early part of the book Nonna is portrayed as absentminded to the point of eccentricity (she was once found asleep on an upturned bucket) but after the first few chapters there’s little indication of this absentmindedness. In fact she seems quite sharp and capable specially towards the end where she takes care for her partner, Stanley.

Too many characters and too many plot lines that ended up diluting the story

Even the romance came in fits and starts because there were just so many other things and people the author needed to carry forward. And that watered down the romance making it sound obligatory.

Oh and here’s my biggest complaint..

Rosie connects with the model, Lucinda Miller, whose picture she had refused to airbrush and in that very first conversation, over that one single phone call, Lucinda shares her life story, her forthcoming project, her deepest insecurities, her doubts and fears. That seemed highly unlikely to me. 

Sigh!

I almost feel sorry for having criticised a book which I actually enjoyed. Perhaps I over-analysed it. In my defence, I have to add that sometimes one might like a book despite its many flaws. Sometimes all that matters is how a book makes you feel. While The Lemon Tree Cafe might not have a life-changing impact it certainly gave me some hours of reading pleasure. And that does count for something.

Last thought: An easy happy read for when you need a break from routine.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it for the prompt ‘a book on food’.

The Plumberry School of Comfort Food #BookReview

Book: The Plumberry School of Comfort Food
Author: Cathy Bramley

First, a confession: I read this book and wrote the review eons ago but forgot to share it here for some reason that I cannot remember, till I stumbled upon it in my drafts. And so here it is, The Plumberry School of Comfort Food.

I found the book at a Books by Weight Sale a few years ago and bought it only for it’s title. So when Shakespeare said ‘What’s in a name’ he really didn’t know what he was talking about. It sounded warm and happy and comforting. And that’s exactly what it turned out to be. The cover is lovely too, isn’t it? Happy and cheerful?

The story

The book is about Verity Bloom who works for an insurance company. She was once an amateur cook and enjoyed making fun Youtube videos with her childhood friend Mimi. When Mimi passes away, Verity loses all interest in cooking and turns into a Prick-and-Ping-Princess, someone who depended on the microwave to do all her cooking. Meanwhile Mimi’s mom Gloria, who had been a food stylist for television (I had no clue that was profession) decides to set up a Cookery School and calls over Verity to help her. Since she’s at a bit of a lose end in her professional as well as her personal life she agrees. That’s where Verity renews her love affair with food.

What I thought of it

This one is a simple feel-good book. Somedays that’s all I have the heart for. For starters I loved the setting – a quaint town called Plumberry. Isn’t that the sweetest of names? The School is wonderful and the cottages in the town, so very inviting.

Watching the women set up that school right from choosing a name to devising courses and planning marketing strategies to pull in the crowd was great fun. Some of the schemes they devised are good enough to be used in a real-life school of cooking, they were that innovative.

I loved the constant debate between the School’s celebrity Chef Tom and Verity about whether food should be serious business or something that spells fun and togetherness. The title gives away the winner but I could see Tom’s point of view too.

The book met another one of my criteria for a good read – a bunch of endearing side characters. There’s a cute little love triangle that keeps you guessing and a bit of a mystery thrown in for good measure.

I give it four stars for delivering on its promise and because I like romances with liberal doses of food and some humour.

I know I’ll be looking out for Cathy Bramley at the next sale.

Last thought: A sweet easy read to curl up with on a rainy day.

The Lunar Chronicles #BookReview

So I am done with the Lunar Chronicles. Finally! What a ride it has been! A tiny bit lengthy towards the end but all in all a fun enjoyable adrenaline pumping adventure.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this series Lunar is a set of four young adult futuristic novels – Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter – loosely based on four fairy tales.

I was done with the first book last year but I read the other three in quick succession over a week. In my mind this is a single long story, which is why it makes sense to review the books together. I promise to keep it short.

First, here’s what the books are about:

The Setting

The stories are set in the future. Earth is tormented by a plague that threatens to wipe off the entire population.

Meanwhile, the Moon has been colonised, is called Luna and is inhabited by Lunars. Peace between the Earthens and Lunars is a tenuous thing with the powerful Lunar queen wanting to take over Earth. With that in mind she is looking for an alliance with the Prince (later King) Kaito of the Eastern Commonwealth (China). Lunars are adept in the art of mind control which makes them formidable enemies. There is also a dead/missing princess believed to be the true heir to the Lunar throne.

Cinder

The story begins with Cinder (obviously Cinderella), who is a Cyborg (part human part machine) and lives with her adoptive mother and two step sisters in New Beijing. She’s an exceptionally talented mechanic and meets Prince Kai when he comes to her to get his android repaired. Then on, secrets are revealed and Cinder has a confrontation with the Lunar queen resulting in her imprisonment and subsequent escape.

Scarlet

The book opens with Cinder, who’s on the run along with an accomplice from the prison, Thorne. The story then moves to a small farm in France where we get to meet Scarlet Benoit. Her tale meshes seamlessly with that of Cinder as they get ready to take on the Lunar Queen.

Cress

Cinder is still on the run and is slowly building a team to help her. Cress, a Lunar, computer whiz, joins her in this book. 

Winter 

This last one is the culmination of the series and we meet our last protagonist Princess Winter, step daughter of the Lunar Queen. The book spirals towards a showdown with between Cinder and the Lunar Queen and the inevitable happily ever after – just as a young adult adventure series should.

What I loved

Books set in the future are my newest obsession. Needless to say that I enjoyed the setting of future earth as also Lunar colonisation which gave a Hunger Games kind of a feel but then the story was so very different that it didn’t get tedious.

The fairy tale twist

I adored the way the fairy tales were integrated in the stories. Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White – I loved them all.

The characters

Were the bestest part of the books. They were all adorable and very differently so. If I had to choose a single strongest feature that endeared the series to me, it would have to be the characters. And if I had one complaint, it would be that some of them didn’t get enough space in the book, specially Princess Winter.

The humour

Humour, if done well, can uplift most genres of story-telling and Meyer uses it so well here. When the narrative begin to lag, and there are bits when they do that, it’s the humour that carries the story through. (Thorne and Iko remain my favourite characters, for that reason. You’ll know what I mean if/when you read the books).

The issues thrown up

The books talk about discrimination, about cyborgs being look down upon, about the transience of physical beauty and about the stupidity of judging people based on stereotypes. All pertinent issues in the current times.

What could have been better

I have no complaints from the first two books. 

Cinder was absolutely smashing. It did a wonderful job of setting the scene and building the story, leaving the reader at a cliff-hangar, craving for more.

Scarlet was good too with the introduction of endearing new characters.

Cress, however, grew tedious in bits, a case of ‘too many twists spoil the plot’. You just wanted to skim through the pages fast and get to the inevitable end.

Winter, despite being a mammoth read, didn’t have much about Princess Winter. Also, the layout of Luna and the Lunar palace, described in much detail during the chase sequences, grew cumbersome. It had me completely lost and I zoned out in a haze of doors and archways and escalators of the Lunar palace. Perhaps it should have been broken down into two separate books – one on Winter and one to gather together the grand finale.

That said, I’d definitely recommend the series. It’s a glimpse into a new world, coupled with the fairy tale twist and a page turning story.

Joining the #TBRChallenge2020 hosted by @shalzmojo and @she_booked_it. And with this I’m done with three prompts:
A Book that’s part of a series
A Book set in the past or the future
A YA Book

Last thought: A must for readers of fantasy fiction.

Big Little Lies – A Review

Beat About the Book

Book Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Lian Moriarty

This review is long long overdue and yet I’m doing it not because of a professional commitment but because I’d promised myself this book was too good to be buried in my “read’ list and forgotten. I know I’ve raved about it on social media so that almost all my friends have read it and yet I’m going ahead with the review because it’s worth it :-).

I already said in my Teaser Tuesday how Big Little Lies kept me awake at nights. I’ll add now that it lived up to its promise right up to the last chapter.

The Story

This is essentially the the story of three kindergarten moms whose children start school together. They all go to Pirriwee Public School. There’s Madeline, mom of two – a teenage daughter (with her ex-husband) and a kindergartener. There’s the ethereally beautiful Celeste who has a pair of rambunctious twin boys and there’s Jane and her son. There are two more moms who are a crucial part of the story – Renata, the high-flying executive mom and, Bonnie, wife of Madeline’s ex husband.

Did I just confuse you? Well just go over this again because these are the ones you need to watch out for. There are half a score more that had me thoroughly confused for the first few pages of the book. However as I read on they began to take on personality and form alignments and cliques.

That’s the best bit about the book – it unravels slowly, page by page and that is what keeps you hooked.

But I’m digressing. Back to the story.

The book opens with a murder but you don’t get to know who was killed till the very end. So while most thrillers focus on figuring out ‘who did it’ and ‘how it was done’, in this one we’re also wondering who died. A murder investigation thread runs through the book.

But that isn’t the only mystery. On the first day of school Jane’s son, Ziggy, is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter Amabella. While Amabella says it’s him, he steadfastly refuses to accept his crime. His mom, Jane’s believes him instinctively, but she has a secret which prompts her to doubt him.

What I felt/thought

Big Little Lies has the distinction of making me break my resolve of never reading the end of a book before I actually get to it. Twice.

This might make the book seem like a thriller, which it is, but to say that it is just that wouldn’t be fair. It is much more, bravely tackling issues like domestic violence, rape, co-parenting, single parents, stay-at-home moms vs working moms and teenage angst. There are scores of everyday issues that kindergarten moms handle – last minute school projects, birthday parties, playdates, bullying and of course parent politics. I could identify with a lot of it and that’s what made the book enjoyable.

The TV series

While I’m at it, I also have to mention the television series based on the book starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley.

I watched it after I read the book because I simply didn’t want to step out of the Big Little Lies haze.

It’s a great watch with some wonderful moments and inspiring dialogue. My favourite bit is where Nicole Kidman, who plays Celeste, takes up a case (she was a practicing lawyer before she had the twins). She scores a win in the negotiations and comes away on a high. And she shouts out, ‘Being a mother is not enough for me.’ I loved that scene. The sense of freedom she feels in verbalising that thought, which perhaps has been dormant  in her head for some time, is so beautiful to watch. Also, the scenes of domestic violence are brutal. They made me snap out of my long time crush on Alexander Skarsgard (which I’d developed after watching The Legend of Tarzan), completely and very rudely, I might add.

It is available on Hotstar in India, in case you want to watch it.

That said, I have to mention that the book is much better. It is much more layered revealing the story bit by bit while never letting the pace flag. Do read it first. You’ll know why I say so once you do.

Last thought: Go for it.

Two romances and some catching up

Chicklit

So I woke up early this month, figuratively of course, to find that I was five books behind in my Goodreads Challenge. All through this year I had maintained a steady pace and kept a book or two ahead. But these last few months had been exceptionally trying and I lost touch.

I was pretty freaked out, I do hate backing out on a commitment even if it is to myself. And so I went on a reading frenzy. I am so very glad I took up the Challenge. It proved a great way to get my reading back on track.

I’d set aside a pile of books to read but I put them all away in favour of something light and happy. Something that wouldn’t demand much from me in terms of attention because the children were home and I knew I’d have to be on random call. So I picked up my favourite go-to comfort genre – light romance.

I began with two books I’d picked up during a Books by Weight sale. They’re both fan fiction in a sense – one on my all time favourite book, Pride and Prejudice and the other on a television series I loved, Downton Abbey (My ringtone has been the theme song from the show for a long time). Interestingly, both brought together American and English sensibilities that was fun to read.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax

… is the story of three women living in an upmarket apartment building but very different in their circumstances as well as attitudes. The concierge is a fan of the show  and organises a screening of the first two seasons. He invites the residents for an evening of sampling not just the show but also a bit of British culture. That’s where three women end up connecting and sorting their lives.

Although this is definitely chicklit, it isn’t about twenty something women complaining about bad dates. The women are older, Brooke is a single mom to two kids, finding her feet after her recent separation from her husband, Claire is an empty nester struggling to write a novel while Samantha is someone who marries for security and money and is trying to understand her relationship with her husband. Those individual stories were  interesting. And there was romance too, so that was a bonus.

However the story had nothing to with the series so I was a little disappointed. The title lead me to believe there would be some kind of a connection. Conversely, having watched the show isn’t necessary to enjoy the book, so that could be a plus. As a standalone book, it was a decent enough read.

Me and Mr Darcy by Alexandra Potter

..is my other read. It is the story of a 29 year old American girl Emily who runs a book store. I loved that bit. Any self-respecting female runner-of-a book-store has to be in love with Mr Darcy and so is Emily. The yearning becomes stronger as a result of scores of really bad dates. It’s Christmas and everyone is going away for a holiday and on an impulse (which might have been a nudge by her fairy godmother) she takes up a Jane Austen guided tour. On the bus she realises she’s the only young person around among a sea of silver-haired women other than the rather obnoxious reporter, Spike. He’s out to discover why Mr Darcy remains the heart-throb of women across ages.

While on the tour, Emily encounters Mr Darcy, the real Mr Darcy. The difference between real and fantasy blurs as Mt Darcy begins to fall in love with her.

This is a light easy read if you have nothing else to do. There’s enough humour to keep you going with some really sweet bits. However there’s a supernatural element that didn’t come through and in the end the book ended up as a rather confused mix. It remains a forgettable read.

Oh my one source of annoyance was an Indian character called Parminda. Please, it’s ‘Parminder’. And she’s into yoga. In Goa. Such careless stereotyping puts me off, even though it’s just a small side character.

After these books I went on to read a bunch of others:
Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies by JK Rowling
Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbagh
Rekha, The Untold Story by Yasser Usman
Letters from Kargil by Diksha Dwivedi
Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult
Origin by Dan Brown
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

That’s nine books in a month! I didn’t even know I was capable of this. And with that I’m all caught up with my challenge. I can now relax and read at a steady pace through December.

So what have you been reading? Did you take up a reading challenge? How’s it going?

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Linking up with #Chatty Blogs from Shanaya Tales

And with My Era’s #BookTalkbooktalk-badge-2

Glitter and Gloss – A Review

Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra

glitterandgloss

It’s been a crazy month and my reading as well as writing have had to take a back seat. However I did manage to finish this sweet little book Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra. If you saw my Teaser Tuesday you’ll have a got a little bit of an idea about it.

But first, as always, here’s the story.

The book is about Misha (named after Misha the bear mascot at Moscow Olympics) a 20 something make-up artist. At a fashion event she rescues a hapless but very handsome man from the clutches of a rather predatory model and that’s the start of the Akshay-Misha love story. Enter Didi, Akshay’s elder sister, and it hits a roadblock. But then what’s a love story without a few roadblocks and some misunderstandings?

The review

I loved Misha right from the opening pages. That’s a great place to begin to like a book. She has an independent streak that I loved. Yet she’s a little scatterbrained and suffers from an acute foot-in-the-mouth syndrome and that made her even more loveable. Finally, her penchant for being a knight in shining armour won me over completely. Akshay is delectable – chiselled cheekbones, big muscles, flat abs and ton-loads of money. There are host of other delightful characters in the book too – Sammy – Misha’s house-husband flatmate, her friend Poulomi (This is how Misha describes her: “She may sound KKK—Khoonkhar, Khatarnak, Khadoos—but Poulomi does have my best interests at heart”) and her bohemian mother.

The writing is a mix of Hindi and English with the most witty one-liners thrown in. They jump at you suddenly, changing the mood, making you smile, even laugh out loud. Sample this:
“Our fingers touch and thousand volts of electricity course through me. The current of attraction is so strong, I half expect my hair to stand up in spikes.”
and another one after the first kiss:
My eyes fly open as I go from Sensuous Cinderella to Piddu Pumpkin.
At that final image the romance flies out of the window and one just ends up laughing. That was the most endearing thing about the writing. It reminded me a bit of Anuja Chauhan. However, this has a younger feel to it. Caution: If you’re a purist it might not quite work for you. In fact some bits stuck out uncomfortably for me too.

For instance ‘din din’ for dinner (pretty juvenile, I thought)
How much I heart Sam and Poul‘.  (Heart?)
‘It’s awesome and amaze’. (Do young people actually talk like this?)

However, I’m willing to forgive much for the laughs the book brought me. I just might be adopting some of the lingo myself like DDGGMM – that would be DullDepressedGlumGloomyMoroseMopey.

The combination of romance and humour never fails to charm me. And this one was just that.

My one real complaint would be that the story was overly simplistic as was the solution. It was way too predictable. I would have liked some more twists and turns, some more melodrama. Another fifty or hundred pages and I would have been happy.

Here’s a delightful quote from the book:

glitterandglossquote

My thoughts: If you’re looking for a simple, fast paced, uncomplicated love story that makes you laugh, this is your book.

A plain Jane #Teaser Tuesday 6

Over the last couple of days I’ve been busier and more stressed than anyone should rightfully be. My writing as well as reading have taken a far backseat. However one does need something to de-stress and that’s why I picked up Glitter and Gloss by Vibha Batra. I’m glad I did. I have only just begun and I’m already in love with the heroine, the hero is dishy enough and the humour has me laughing out loud – just the perfect recipe for a stress-buster.

I join in this week’s Teaser Tuesday, hosted by Should Be Reading with two lines for the book. I hope to have a review up as soon as time permits.

glitterandgloss

I wave a dismissive hand. ‘Oh, please, I’m so not in his league.
He’s a Greek God,’ I slur. ‘I’m a Plain Janaki, no, Plain Janani— what the eff is the Indian equivalent of Plain Jane again?’

Got any suggestions to help the lady in the quote?

 

download

If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!