30 July, 2013

Book Review: The Midwife's Tale

From Goodreads: It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.
Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

Thoughts:  Like While We Watching Downton Abbey, this came from a review by Sheila over at Book Journey. I love a good historical mystery and this aims to please. As a history professor, it's no surprise that Sam Thomas is right on top of his research. His characters while fictional, are based on people he came across while looking at old wills. His main character Bridget Hodgson was a real midwife, twice widowed, who identified herself via her profession rather than her marital status - a rarity at the time. This alone is enough to imagine that the real Bridget was as strong and independent minded woman as the fictional one. Thomas acknowledges the restraints on women at the time, yet still manages to give Bridget a real backbone that she is not afraid to use! She is more than happy to trade on her importance in the town as a midwife and uses it with great success. The book also gives an insight into the reality of childbirth at the time - the fact it was dangerous and not something to be done without a lot of support from your female family and friends! 
The mystery unravels at a pace that keeps the reader interested and the discoveries and outcomes are believable. I'd like to think that Sam Thomas will write more mysteries involving Bridget Hodgson and her side kick Martha Hawkins. I know I'd read them!

26 July, 2013

Book Review: While We Were Watching Downton Abbey

From Goodreads: When the concierge of The Alexander, a historic Atlanta apartment building, invites his fellow residents to join him for weekly screenings of Downton Abbey, four very different people find themselves connecting with the addictive drama, and—even more unexpectedly—with each other…
Samantha Davis married young and for the wrong reason: the security of old Atlanta money—for herself and for her orphaned brother and sister. She never expected her marriage to be complicated by love and compromised by a shattering family betrayal.
Claire Walker is now an empty nester and struggling author who left her home in the suburbs for the old world charm of The Alexander, and for a new and productive life. But she soon wonders if clinging to old dreams can be more destructive than having no dreams at all.
And then there’s Brooke MacKenzie, a woman in constant battle with her faithless ex-husband. She’s just starting to realize that it’s time to take a deep breath and come to terms with the fact that her life is not the fairy tale she thought it would be.
For Samantha, Claire, Brooke—and Edward, who arranges the weekly gatherings—it will be a season of surprises as they forge a bond that will sustain them through some of life’s hardest moments—all of it reflected in the unfolding drama, comedy, and convergent lives of Downton Abbey. 

Thoughts: This book came to me through a review by Sheila on  Book Journey. 
And can I just say thank you Shelia, for introducing me to the girls - they are a great bunch!
So Edward, the concierge of The Alexander apartment building decides to foster a little community spirit in the building by hosting a weekly screening of Seasons one and two of Downton Abbey in the lead up to season 3. As residents gather for their weekly "fix," friendships are formed, support is given and much wine is drunk! Sounds like my kind of place!
While quite predictable (I picked the likely out come for the three main characters and one or two "extras") the story never felt boring or pointless. It became about how each of these women grew and how they got to their resolutions. I love the message of the importance of friendship and how it can be found it places you would never think to look. I adore the value it places on friendship while acknowledging friendships change, evolve and are a two way street. 
I was a bit concerned that linking it to Downton Abbey was a bit of a gimmick - and maybe it is, but I can remember getting together with friends to watch Friends or Melrose Place. I remember how wonderful those nights were, how we often missed the show altogether and had to re watch it (thank goodness for VCR's!). I remember the strong friendships built on those nights, the laughter, the tears, the break-ups (ours and the characters), the excitement of new relationships - all reviewed and dissected with great friends. I'm sure Wendy Wax could have invented a fictional show, but why do that when there is one ready made for you. While you don't need to have watched Downton Abbey to read the book, it most probably wouldn't hurt to have seen the first two seasons, especially as there are a few little spoilers.
While We  Were Watching Downton Abbey is a lovely light, fun read. Go for it!


19 July, 2013

Book Review: Maus

From Goodreads: The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in “drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust” (The New York Times).
Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us.

Thoughts: It was summer. I remember I was 10 or 11. "Last one to the schoolyard is a rotten egg." I was rollerskating with Howie and Steve...'til my skate came loose. "Ow! Hey! Wait up fellas!"
"Rotten Egg! ha ha!"
"W-wait up."
My father was in front fixing something...
"Artie! Come to hold this a minute while I saw. Why do you cry, Artie. Hold better on the wood."
"I fell and my friends skated away without me"
He stopped sawing. "Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, THEN you could see what it is, friends."

And that is the boot to the stomach Maus starts with. From this point, I knew that it would be a book that made you feel like you'd been hit again and again, and I was right.

For me, the brutality of Maus is it's raw honest look at the relationship between a father who has experienced true horrors and a man who is trying to understand and even forgive the effect that had on his childhood. Spiegelman exposed everything in this book about his relationship with his father. The graphic novel does not just recount Vladek's time during World War II, in recounts the interviews and events when Art was interviewinig Vladek about the book.

The power of Maus is not only in it's first hand account of surviving the Holocaust, but an account of how the families of survivors were affected. How the experiences of the Jews during that time coloured their whole life - where fear and distrust became the norm, safety was never guaranteed and try as you might to not let it, it did affect those around you. I became so frustrated with Art and the way he reacted to his father sometimes, but really in the end, the relationship was like so many father/ son or parent/ child relationships. Frustration with the parent over a seemingly inability to move out of (what the child perceives to be) dark ages and into the present. Frustration with the child who refuses to understand why things are important and why you simply cannot throw away anything you no longer want. It's a frustration I experience at times with my own aging parents.

And then there are the accounts of what happened during World War II. By maintaining his father's faulty English, Art portrayed the tone of Vladek so well. I could hear him speak, the accent, the matter-of-factness about his statements.

And we came here to the concentration camp Auschwitz. And we knew that from here we will not come out anymore...We knew the stories - that they will gas us and throw us in the ovens. This was 1944..we knew everything. And here we were.

When I read that I can hear the sadness, but also the acceptance of it. I imagine the fear they felt right at that moment, but in the recount, all I hear is sadness and acceptance. We were here, there was nothing we could do, we knew the outcome.

I've read a fair amount of Holocaust literature - both fiction and non fiction. It is a period of history that haunts and baffles me. This is one of the most powerful pieces I have read on it. The black and white drawings emphasis the darkness the stories, the links back to the present show the ongoing repercussions and the categorising of different races as different animals (Jews were mice, Germans cats, Polish pigs and American's dogs) served to show that humans view each other as different species, rather than as one. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in the Holocaust. 

I read this as part of my 13 in '13 challenge. I deliberately chose a graphic novel that had some real meat to it. I'm not a comic girl, I'm not interested in the Marvel type graphic novels. This, however, has shown me that there is some wonderful, high quality graphic books out there. I'll be keeping my out for more of this quality.

Challenges: 13 in '13

12 July, 2013

Guest Review: The Bridesmaid's Baby.

 So today I welcome Car to my blog for the final trashy romance read. To get the whole story, click here and here. Car has a lovely blog over at Carrose Creations - I recommend you check it out. But first, read her review of

A double dare that turned into a double, double dare #challengeissued - saw a cute little package arriving on my doorstep. A small romance book to be read. Complete with chocolates. Anything that arrives with chocolate HAS to be good right?
Not really. 

Friday night, I went to bed and started reading the small 241 page book.
Now can I just state for the record, I may have held a few pre-conceived notions about Mills and Boon. I've never ever been compelled to read a M&B book before & its not as though I don't love a good romance - hello Danielle Steele - I may or may not own the entire collection. Looking at the M&B web page I am seeing a lot of "sexy" on the front covers - so really is it ANY wonder that I entered this challenge with high expectations of a good looking couple having a good old romp down by the creek?

My chosen book was anything but that vision in my mind. Sure the romping was insinuated and the first few pages held great promise… 

"With the urgency of a wild bee discovering the world's most tempting honey, Will pulled her closer and took the kiss deeper."
Ok. So. Now I know where the Bee in the Birds and the Bees originated from. 

Leaving aside the lack of shall we call it 'sexy romance - insinuated not applied' is the point I get all scornful about the storyline. For all intents and purposes the subject matter of the book was probably NOT the best suited for me (if you know me and have been reading my personal blog for awhile, it should make sense - so excuse me while I go off on this little rant…) 

"Getting noticed by the gorgeous best man is every bridesmaids dream. Discovering she's pregnant thrills her - but is Will going to stay to meet his baby?" 

I know blurbs are supposed to pull you in - make you want to read the book, and I know choosing a book that mentions pregnancy and baby is surely a sign that there will be a 'surprise' pregnancy involved. BUT.
The Bridesmaid & Best Man are actually old friends from high school, with a simmering mutual attraction that neither will admit. I felt like screaming JUST TALK ALREADY!!! Contrary to what you would like to believe will happen in the book, they do NOT go home after the wedding and well you know. No. No. No.
Now that storyline I could have accepted. 

No. This story has the audacity to include a miscarriage PLUS a failed IVF attempt on page 15. I should have stopped there. IVF is NOT a subject to be treated lightly and while I can see why the author felt the need to add it, it just didn't sit right with me. A few minutes later, surprise surprise a surrogacy pregnancy appears on page 21. Twins even. Oh Yay.

Putting aside my own personal feelings on the subject; I have read books before that have unplanned pregnancies & babies. I have read a book written entirely about IVF from a male perspective. So I can deal. This one I just couldn't accept. Romanticising IVF is just plain wrong in my opinion. Having ONE failed (a la natural cycle) and being absolutely crushed because it didn't happen. OH COME ON.

Then there was the subject of age. Maybe I could have accepted the storyline a little better, had the character been in her late 30's - biological clock ticking yada, yada. Funnily enough her age wasn't really mentioned, the prologue however started after they finished University so I'm thinking they would have been 22 perhaps? The main story started with the Male lead returning to his hometown after 10 years and a brief mention "A woman in her thirties with a loudly ticking biological clock" which in my estimation puts the characters in their VERY early 30's? I understand the desire women get for wanting babies, I understand all too well the feelings of failed cycles - but in my opinion a 200 page book that we all know is going to end happily is likely NOT the best setting to bring in such sensitive topics.
All in all I was extremely disappointed. I had wanted to read a good wholesome romance book to prove Kylie wrong, but sadly it has not shown me the goods.

10 July, 2013

Book Review: Drink, Smoke, Pass Out: An unlikely Spiritual Journey

From Goodreads: At last, a book about life that discusses liquor and lovemaking as much as it does the point of it all.
Judith Lucy has looked everywhere for happiness. Growing up a Catholic, she thought about becoming a nun, and later threw herself into work, finding a partner and getting off her face. Somehow, none of that worked.
So lately, she's been asking herself the big questions. Why are we here? Is there a God? What happens when we die? And why can't she tell you what her close friends believe in, but she can tell you which ones have herpes? No-one could have been more surprised than Judith when she started to find solace and meaning in yoga and meditation, and a newfound appreciation for what others get from their religion.
In her first volume of memoir, the bestselling The Lucy Family Alphabet, Judith dealt with her parents. In Drink, Smoke, Pass Out, she tries to find out if there's more to life than wanting to suck tequila out of Ryan Gosling's navel. With disarming frankness and classic dry wit, she reviews the major paths of her life and, alarmingly, finds herself on a journey.

Thoughts: I read this to fulfill the spiritual genre of my 13 in '13 challenge , a category I was struggling to find something for. The reality is most spiritual books (and excuse the French here) shit me. I know what I believe. It is something I have given much thought to and am quite content with. As such, I don't feel the need to read many spiritual books. Maybe if I was less sure of my own thoughts I would find them helpful, but in general I find them preachy and condescending. Possibly I've been reading the wrong ones, who knows. 
This however was in a different vein. It was someone else's spiritual journey - their search for something to make sense of it all. What's more, it took great pains to remind you that this was her journey, not yours and as such she felt no compunction to try and change your mind or convert you - refreshing. In fact it's the lack of preachiness that has made me consider exploring some of the avenues Lucy has found solace in - specifically meditation.
This book is not for those who offend easily, especially if they offend at someone taking the piss out of their religion. Her view of the traditional catholic church is scathing. Lucy makes no apologies for her views and opinions. Much of the book is dedicated to her explaining how she got to where she was - early life, career choices, lifestyle choices and a growing feeling of being dissatisfied with aspects of her life and looking for something that made sense. Her exploration of different faiths and beliefs is actually quite a small chapter that summerises the TV series she did for the ABC. I watched the series too and found the book and the series complemented each other wonderfully. While the book explained the why of looking, the series looked at the actual exploration of different faiths and beliefs. I strongly suggest if you read the book you also watch the series and vice versa.
The TV series about Juidith Lucy's Spiritual Journey.

Challenges: 13 in '13 Challenge, Aussie Author Challenge

07 July, 2013

Book Review: The Wild Girl

From Goodreads: Dortchen Wild fell in love with Wilhelm Grimm the first time she saw him.
Growing up in the small German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel in early Nineteenth century, Dortchen Wild is irresistibly drawn to the boy next door, the young and handsome fairy tale scholar Wilhelm Grimm.
It is a time of War, tyranny and terror. Napoleon Bonaparte wants to conquer all of Europe, and Hessen-Cassel is one of the first kingdoms to fall. Forced to live under oppressive French rule, the Grimm brothers decide to save old tales that had once been told by the firesides of houses grand and small all over the land.
Dortchen knows many beautiful old stories, such as 'Hansel and Gretel', 'The Frog King' and 'Six Swans'. As she tells them to Wilhelm, their love blossoms. Yet the Grimm family is desperately poor, and Dortchen's father has other plans for his daughter. Marriage is an impossible dream.
Dortchen can only hope that happy endings are not just the stuff of fairy tales.

 Thoughts: Dark, disturbing, harsh, haunting, emotional. All of these words are repeated often in reviews of The Wild Girl, and they are all correct. Kate Forsyth's historical book about Dortchen Wild and Wilhelm Grimm is spectacular. You will experience the full range of emotions as you read about their love, the barriers put up by Dortchen's father, all against the tumultuous backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.
Forsyth does not protect her reader at all from the harsh realities of life, or the darker side of human nature. She pulls no punches, softens no blows, but leads the reader down dark paths, dangerous alleys into terrifying situations. At one stage she leaves you with little hope for her characters. At times the despair is almost suffocating, but you are pulled back as you want to know, need to know, if this can be resolved. For me, I was so connected to Dortchen, so concerned for her that I felt I had to read on, if only to see her out of the darkness. I felt that if I closed the book, I left her there, hanging, waiting for me to continue to lead her (hopefully) somewhere safer, quieter, lighter. 
I also now want to go and read all of Grimm's fairytales again.
I was so taken with this book I'm going to go out on a limb here and put it on par with Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Yep, it's that good. Not often will I say a book is a must read - but this is a must read. In years to come when they put out those "50 books you must read" or "50 books to change your life" this will be on it. It will stand the test of time and like The Book Thief will become a classic. Don't miss it - read it now.
I must also say thanks to Eclectic Reader, whose review of The Wild Girl is what prompted me to read it.

Challenges: Aussie Author Challenge

Book Review: One Breath Away

From Goodreads: In her most emotionally charged novel to date, New York Times bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf explores the unspoken events that shape a community, the ties between parents and their children and how the fragile normalcy of our everyday life is so easily shattered.In the midst of a sudden spring snowstorm, an unknown man armed with a gun walks into an elementary school classroom. Outside the school, the town of Broken Branch watches and waits.
Officer Meg Barrett holds the responsibility for the town's children in her hands. Will Thwaite, reluctantly entrusted with the care of his two grandchildren by the daughter who left home years earlier, stands by helplessly and wonders if he has failed his child again. Trapped in her classroom, Evelyn Oliver watches for an opportunity to rescue the children in her care. And thirteen-year-old Augie Baker, already struggling with the aftermath of a terrible accident that has brought her to Broken Branch, will risk her own safety to protect her little brother.
As tension mounts with each passing minute, the hidden fears and grudges of the small town are revealed as the people of Broken Branch race to uncover the identity of the stranger who holds their children hostage.

Thoughts: My decision to read this book came after reading a review of it on Workaday Reads and I'm glad I did. I found it engrossing - reading it in one sitting - going to bed way too late in order to finish it! Just a well we are on holidays at the moment!
I must admit given the climate at the moment, I do approach books about school shootings with trepidation.  I've read Columbine, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Nineteen Minutes (I know I've read it, but I can't find my review of it??) which all dealt with the issue in different ways and I "enjoyed" to varying degrees. However what I found compelling about One Breath Away was how the focus was not on the shooter, but on the people touched by the event either because they were dealing with it from a law enforcement or educator point of view or from the point of having a loved one in the classroom. The pace of the novel was relentless, moving back and forth between characters and their story. Despite the fact it is told from the POV of several people, each of those has such a distinctive role in the drama, you don't mix them up or get confused by who is who. I seriously tried to put it down, but just kept picking it up again. It's not a taxing read, but as I said, very compelling. I didn't get the twist until just before it - which I love - nothing worse that reading a book and figuring it out within the first half. All in all, a great book which I would highly recommend.

02 July, 2013

Book Review: Choker

From Goodreads: Sixteen-year-old Cara Lange has always been a loner, even more so since she moved away from her best and only friend, Zoe, a few years ago. Cara mostly spends her time avoiding the popular girls who call her 'choker' after a humiliating incident in the cafeteria, and watching Ethan Gray from a distance, wishing he would finally notice her.
Then one day Cara comes home and finds Zoe waiting for her. Zoe's on the run from problems at home, and Cara agrees to help her hide. With Zoe back, Cara's life changes overnight. Zoe gives her a new look and new confidence, and before she can blink, Cara is flirting with Ethan and getting invited to parties. And best of all, she has her best friend to confide in again.
But just as quickly as Cara's life came together, it starts to unravel. A girl goes missing in her town, and everyone is a suspect ~ including Ethan. Worse still, Zoe starts behaving very strangely, and Cara begins to wonder what exactly her friend does all day when she's at school. You're supposed to be able to trust your best friend no matter what, but what if she turns into a total stranger?

Thoughts: Often when I read a book, before I review it, I pop on over to Goodreads and read a few reviews first. I do this for a couple of reasons. I often find it hard to put into words what I feel about a book that reading other reviews gives me a start point. Sometimes it makes me reflect on a book differently, making me think about things I had thought of before. I also find it comforting (not quite the right word, but as close as I can get) when I find reviews that express similar feelings to myself about the book - that I somehow got it "right." Usually with books I don't like, it only takes me three or four reviews to find someone else who wasn't enamoured. With Choker is was quite a scroll down the page to find someone else who wasn't thrilled with it. ! I didn't find it creepy, I saw the ending coming from waaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy off and there were plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. There was so much detail that was just ignored, situations not explained adequately for me to believe the story I was being told. Spoiler alert. High light the following space if you want to see my plot concerns. Which parents, in their right minds, leave a child who has history of mental illness alone when the evidence is so clear that she is struggling. Given Cara had apparently committed murder, there was no loss of time or unexplained circumstances. Even given the fact that she thought Zoe was responsible for all of it, from what I understand of this level of psychological issues, not everything can be explained, even in the mind of the person suffering the disorder. Cara's behaviour just did not sit well with what the book was asking me to believe was happening.
The writing was ok, but nothing brilliant - definitely not enough to save the book as a whole. Maybe the reality is I am simply getting too old to read a lot of YA fiction. I'm no longer able to suspend disbelief to the point it is needed to accept certain things in the book. I accept that at 15, 16, 17 I may have loved this book. At over 40, it just doesn't cut it for me.

Book Review: I Know This Much is True

From Goodreads:  On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother, Thomas, entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut, public library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. . . .

One of the most acclaimed novels of our time, Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True is a story of alienation and connection, devastation and renewal, at once joyous, heartbreaking, poignant, mystical, and powerfully, profoundly human.

Thoughts: I first came across Wally Lamb when I read The Hour I First Believed. This lead to me putting him on my Authors I Want to Read list. Then I read She's Come Undone, which I loved and I can't believe it took me so long to get around to this.
If someone asked me which Wally Lamb book I would recommend, I'd say this one. It's emotionally taxing, but so beautifully written.
Thomas and Dominick are twins. Thomas is schizophrenic. A condition he has struggled with for over 20 years. Dominick is his champion, his protector. The one who has always fought the battles Thomas couldn't.
 You really get a sense of Dominick's struggle with being the "healthy half" of him and his brother. At all times he acts in the best interest of Thomas, despite the fact he finds it a chore - it's his job, it's what he promised his mother. You see, Dominick has always been the protector, the one who looked after Thomas and if he didn't, well there was the guilt to deal with. Thomas' incarceration in the maximum security wing of a psychiatric hospital is the catalyst for Dominick to examine his and Thomas' childhood and the events that shaped their future. This leads the reader on a journey which is emotional rollercoaster as questions are answered and others are formed.
Some reviews I have read disliked the neat as neat ending of the book. For me it was a bit of a relief. It was nice to know that there was some peace for the characters. They had been through such turmoil you felt they deserved it. Not true to life maybe, but kind to this reader at least!

01 July, 2013

Bloggers Boogie: Melancholy style

Little White Dove

I've been a bit down recently, not sure why, but it will pass. Anyway, yesterday we were driving and song came on the radio and I instantly teared up. It's a  song I played over and over and over again the day a friend died, almost thirty years ago when I was 13. Usually I don't have a problem with the song, but occasionally, when I'm a bit low to start with there are songs that trigger the tears and the memories. So todays (late) boogie is dedicated to some wonderful people who are no longer with us.

Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper.
This is the song that set me off yesterday. It's for Kiri, who was taken from us way too soon at the age of 13. She has taught me lots and is the reason I am so pro vaccination.

Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. 
For Elliott. Elliott's mum is my mum's cousin. Not sure what that makes Elliott and I, but I loved him. He was 19 when he was the victim of a hit and run. This was played at his funeral.

Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd.
This was played at the funeral of cousin Sam who took his own life earlier this year. My family has been touched by suicide many times and it never gets easier. This is not your classic funeral song, but it suited Sam.

Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.
For Tony. Another cousin, another suicide. I didn't get to Tony's funeral which broke my heart. This song says everything I wish I could say to all of those who have gone too soon - Wish you were here.

Amazing Grace
I'm not 100% sure, but I think this was played at the funerals of both my grandmother's - one aged 91, the other 98. Both amazing women who I still miss every day.

Cast in Stone by The Ten Tenors
It my real maudlin moments I wonder what songs I would choose for a funeral. This is always one. I hope I never have to use it.

So there you go, my melancholy bloggers boogie. Hopefully next week I can return you to a more cheerful boogie.

Guest Review: Contracted: Corporate Wife

So today I bring you the second of three book reviews of Mills and Boons novels. Want to know why I'm reviewing Mills and Boons on my blog? It all started here, which lead to this and three friends reviewing the three I didn't read. Miss Dove has already submitted her review and today I give you the woman who put the whole idea in my head in the first place. My wonderful gorgeous friend Kirsty - thank you darling, the promised champagne will be delivered as soon as I am able.

"Oh, number two. It's got a millionaire and a single mum with kids so that hits several stereotypes. I'm sure that one of the kids will crack his cold, determined heart and he'll start falling in love, run away and then come back and confess all... at which point she'll have tears welling up as she says how seeing him with her kids has made her fall in love with him, too. Then they'll have another wedding in the spirit intended, complete with cute bridal party and declarations of love for all.

Well, I'm pretty sure that's how it will go. You read it and let me know if I got it right".

With those words I pretty much doomed myself. When will I learn? Never, ever, ever toss a glib comment at Kylie when it comes to books… a subject that demands and deserves both thought and respect. Truthfully, I was just so stunned that not only was she going to read a trashy romance but that she'd checked four of them out on her library card. I know that if I was ever tempted by something so light, fluffy and lacking in substance I wouldn't be sullying my library card - or professional reputation! - on them, I'd be buying them from an op shop. Or, as I did, I'd make a smart remark and end up getting what has become known as "The Care Package from Hell" landing in my letterbox. For there, tucked neatly under the lovely note and two packages of chocolate (including my favourite Ferrero Rocher chocolates!) was the very book I'd laughed at. The challenge was on, I agreed to read it and then review it.

I'll be honest, reading the book wasn't hard. Well, apart from the fact it didn't require much brain power it was also a great giggle. I, like most other teenagers, at one stage read a dozen or so of this genre and then recognised the formula they followed and promptly read another three or four to confirm it - and to laugh. But reviewing it, that was harder. Why? Well, it appears that a book so easily read doesn't necessarily become a book that stays in your memory. That means I've actually had to read the book twice, just to remind myself of the main plot points. As it turned out, my predictions weren't entirely accurate. It seems that the Mills & Boon formula has undergone a bit of tweaking in the last… however many years since I read one.

A millionaire who's determined not to fall in love.

Patrick Farr is perfectly happy with his bachelor life, wining and dining beautiful young women. If only he could make them understand that marriage is definitely not on the agenda!

He decides there is only one way to prove that he will never marry for love - a marriage of convenience. His PA, Louisa Dennison, is cool and calm under pressure. She's also a single mum, bringing up two very demanding kids. So when Patrick proposes, what will her answer be? After all his could answer all her prayers…

I opened the book thinking that I was going to find Patrick to be rather vapid, Louisa would be cold and the kids would be whinging little brats. And yet I still opened it… something that continues to surprise me. When Louisa, or Lou as she is more warmly referred to throughout the book, ordered champagne on the fourth page I decided it probably wasn't going to be as terrible as I expected. After all, the woman has taste! And, as it turns out, she really does. Patrick is a workaholic who, at heart, just seems scared of getting hurt, hence his reluctance to commit. After a tipsy conversation at the beginning of the book where Lou jokingly suggests that to escape the menace of his band of leggy blondes demanding commitment he should just marry someone like her to give himself some space, but he'd still be welcome to date them on the side, I was well on my way to liking her and her very dry sense of humour.

Patrick takes Lou up on her offer and it all appears very businesslike, but she's already falling for him, he's falling for her - and not realising it - and the scenes with his family reveals how great a catch he really is. Of course, anyone that subscribes to the theory that kids are honest and wouldn't like someone who doesn't like them (and don't people say the same about dogs, cats and whatever else they can think of?) would realise that its all going to come good as Lou's kids - a fourteen year old and an eleven year old - warmed quickly to Patrick and he was quite in tune with their feelings and reciprocated them, too.

They got married and settled down quite happily with separate rooms and a fairly well established "no touching" rule. Well, Lou could touch Patrick's credit cards, but that was it. Patrick did try dating a couple of times and discovered - shock, horror! - that it wasn't what he wanted. He started wanting what he already had, a happy home and a family that loved him. Of course, he didn't truly have it, but he had the illusion of it. And Lou? Well, she started really wanting Patrick and had to work hard to keep the green eyed monster under wraps when he was dating… and her increased passion for him under wraps when he was at home. As for the kids, they had their important part to play about two thirds into the book so they weren't entirely left out.

You know that at the end there will be a crisis of some sort and that the truth will out itself. Or, if you're like me, you expect another episode of in vino veritas. Given that the book started with them drinking champagne I was mildly surprised to find that the declarations of love happened over a cup of tea. Still, it did finally happen, precipitated by the death of Lou's beloved aunt who, like in all good romance novels - and the bad ones, too - left her an unexpected fortune. Suddenly their rather odd marriage contract - freedom for him, access to his money for her - was no longer needed. There was a slight misunderstanding before the expected declaration of love… but it did happen.

Light, fluffy and rather forgettable? Yes. But was it as bad as I expected? Well, no. They weren't cookie cutter Mills & Boon characters but seemed to have a bit of personality and warmth, both of which I didn't fully expect. I actually got the giggles a couple of times - and not just because I was reading a romance novel. It's not the greatest book I've ever read, of course, but it wasn't as downright awful as I thought it might be. I'm not sure whether Mills & Boon have evolved or I just had really low expectations. Either way, I'm not planning on reading another one anytime soon… although I may re-read this one every so often, purely for the amusement that Kylie actually bought it and sent it to me. After all, the woman (usually!) has great taste in books, friends and champagne… and she was only a bit off with one of those three categories this time.