Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel

juniper.jpgThe idea itself is lovely. Dealing with grief by tracking it daily via a happiness index. For each person the index would be different of course, because what makes one person smile or feel a moment of happiness isn’t always the same for another person.

Think about what kind of things make you happy each day. Even the smallest things count. A memory, an interaction, a piece of chocolate or perhaps just relaxing after a long day.

Since the death of her sister Camilla, Juniper has been desperately trying to find her happy. She is so grief stricken that she is trying to grasp what she can from life.

She is also trying to fulfil what she believes to be her sister’s last wish. A letter to her love. So Juniper takes it upon herself to find the mysterious recipient. She is also really invested in making the people around her happy. She does this by playing matchmaker, by saving those around her from possible negative thoughts and bad intentions.

In her quest to survive day by day and to not crumble under the weight of her personal loss, Juniper inadvertently finds herself building friendships, experiencing love and learning a few hard lessons along the way.

The focus is on the people left behind, as opposed to a lot of books that seem to make the dead the main characters. What’s done is done and those who are gone aren’t coming back, so let’s concentrate on the living.

The author tries not to delve too far into the teen drama or rather make the scenarios too candy floss sweet or unicorn eccentric. It is passionate without being soppy, witty without being ridiculous and is realistic in a down-to-earth way.

Definitely a read I would recommend.

Buy Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @thatjulieisrael visit julieisrael.com

Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

mrs fletcherI have to be honest it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I could easily pontificate about Perrotta’s skill when it comes to social commentary and his ability to make readers squirm, because he hits the realism button far too often. However I do believe this is over-hyped and doesn’t live up to expectations.

It doesn’t take a master of social interactions to create this type of scenario. In fact I think a lot of it is gratuitous sexual gratification, perhaps for the shock factor. Shall we say, the ticking of en vogue boxes.

Even though the words sexual harassment were thrown in as a kind of jokey afterthought, and not taken seriously at all, Mrs Fletcher was definitely guilty of crossing the line. She was guilty of crossing quite a few of those. There seemed to be a really big focus on the son and his dubious actions, especially his very particular brand of misogyny, and yet none on the mother. There shouldn’t be distinction made between the two just because one of them is a middle-aged woman.

One could argue that her son knows no better because he wasn’t taught to treat women with respect. What is her excuse? Does she believe women aren’t held up to the same standards when it comes to crossing boundaries?

There was also a contradiction when it came to Mrs Fletcher being an over-protective mother, and yet that same person becomes so involved in her sexual fantasies that the plight of her son goes completely unnoticed.

Taking a step back I can see the intent or the point the author was striving to make, a tongue-in-cheek scathing eye-opener on the life a suburban housewife, but it wasn’t executed very well.

Buy Mrs Fletcher at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Blog-Tour: The Second Chance Café in Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett

Today I am pleased to take part in the Blog-Tour for The Second Chance Café in Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett. It is a read I think many women will be able to identify with. Bartlett delivers realistic characters with a big helping of reality, and yet she balances the fun, the chaos and the more serious side of things with the skill of a circus juggler.

About the Author

Lilly Bartlett’s cosy romcoms are full of warmth, quirky characters and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.

Lilly is the pen-name of Sunday Times and USA Today best-selling author, Michele Gorman, who writes best friend-girl power comedies under her own name.

About the book

One chance isn’t always enough…

Everyone expects great things from Emma Billings, but when her future gets derailed by an unexpected turn of events, she realises that getting back on track means travelling in a different direction.

She finds that new path in the closed-down pub on Carlton Square. Summoning every ounce of ingenuity, and with the help of her friends and family, she opens the Second Chance Café. The charity training business is meant to keep vulnerable kids off the streets and (hopefully) away from the Metropolitan Police, and her new employees are full of ideas, enthusiasm … and trouble. They’ll need as much TLC as the customers they’re serving.

This ragtag group of chancers have to make a go of a business they know nothing about, and they do get some expert help from an Italian who’s in love with the espresso machine and a professional sandwich whisperer who reads auras, but not everyone is happy to see the café open. Their milk keeps disappearing and someone is cancelling the cake orders, but it’s when someone commits bloomicide on all their window boxes that Emma realises things are serious. Can the café survive when NIMBY neighbours and the rival café owner join forces to close them down? Or will Emma’s dreams fall as flat as the cakes they’re serving?

Review

With all due respect to the high level of patience Emma shows throughout the entire fiasco with her nemesis, there is such a thing as being too nice. Personally I think I would have given the coppers a real reason to visit me. Emma is too complacent. She just ignores all the underhanded schemes and the attempts to bring her project to a standstill.

She needs to find a backbone and stand up for herself. While we are at it she also needs to articulate her needs better when it comes to her husband. Mothers often find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. They want to take care of their babies, and yet at the same time they want some free time. Unfortunately they feel guilty when they leave their children to go to work, pursue hobbies or just enjoy some child-free moments. It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think men quite comprehend the strange boomerang type relationship women have with their children.

This story made me want to jump inside the pages and take up arms on behalf of Emma. I was enraged by the petty attacks on her business. A place where anyone can enjoy a slice of cake and a posh cup of coffee. It also isn’t called Second Chance for nothing. Emma wants to give back to the community or society in general by hiring juvenile delinquents to work in her café.

She believes everyone deserves a second chance in life, especially young people in vulnerable or difficult situations. Where others see hopeless cases, Emma sees potential instead of trouble, which is a good message overall. Teens are often typecast at an early age, which can determine and influence the rest of their lives. Of course this doesn’t mean all teens are misunderstood, some of them aren’t interested in a second chance.

Bartlett manages to keep this story light and amusing, despite the serious topics she has woven into the fabric of this tale. She distracts the readers with bright noisy rattles, whilst introducing hardcore problems and bringing them to the table. It almost seems like an accidental plot at times, but of course this is just Bartlett doing what she does best.

It is a read I think many women will be able to identify with. Bartlett delivers realistic characters with a big helping of reality, and yet she balances the fun, the chaos and the more serious side of things with the skill of a circus juggler.

Buy The Second Chance Café in Carlton Square on Amazon UkAmazon com or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @HarperImpulse

The Other Us by Fiona Harper

The other UsIn The Other Us Harper moves away from her usual repertoire we have come to love and enjoy. She takes a big step away from her witty romantic comedies and leads her readers into this emotionally complex story. She still manages to infuse her special brand of humour into the characters and the story though.

I really enjoyed it. Leaving the elaborate plot aside, and I do so enjoy reads that make you ponder and sometimes screw with your brain, I do think this story is one readers will be able to relate to. Why? Because the majority of people will always believe that the grass is greener on the other side. They may not believe it all the time, especially during long-term relationships, but there will be occasions when they think about greener pastures.

Maggie wakes up one morning to find herself right back on the day she made a choice, the kind of choice that determines which path you take in life. So, the question is whether she should take this bizarre opportunity to choose a different life for herself.

Imagine being able to revisit some of the most important decisions in your life, but armed with the knowledge of your future. Sounds like an intriguing proposition to me, having the ability to change the outcome of your future. Except for the minor issue of the butterfly effect. You change one detail and inadvertently you may set a whole different sequence of events in motion.

Maggie has a grown daughter and is married to a dependable, and yet a wee bit boring Dan. She is thrilled to wake up a few decades earlier and have the opportunity to pick the love of her life Jude. Life with Jude means not having her daughter or her best friend Becca though. Is being with Jude worth it? And as if that wasn’t complicated enough, Maggie jumps back and forth into more than one alternative life.

She has no control over when, where or who she will end up with from one day to the next and is thrown into a state of constant emotional confusion. Does she give up one person to live with another, will she ever see her child again or in fact ever become a mother? In fact I think that was one of the most prolific questions the story raised. I’m sure plenty of people have mentioned flippantly that if given the chance they would have done things differently and made other choices. If you have children now that also means those children would probably not even exist in the new reality. So a choice against the father of your children is also a choice against the children you love. Maggie has to deal with the same dilemma.

Harper delivers an intriguing premise and an invigorating read. The time-hopping element and parallel realities give this story undertones of a science fiction plot, however the whole scenario could also just be one very long vivid dream. A dream full of Freudian slips with far-reaching consequences, all with the ultimate goal of comprehending that your own lawn is the same shade of green. Your subconscious often sends you very vivid messages, maybe this is just a very graphic wake-up call for Maggie. Kudos to Harper for the great read and the ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ Ewing reference, it was the first thing I thought of.

Buy The Other Us at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @FiHarper_Author@HQStories or @HarperCollinsUK

Read The Summer we Danced, The Doris Day Vintage Film Club or The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams by Fiona Harper

Mothers and Other Strangers by Gina Sorell

mothersRelationships between mothers and daughters can be anything from beautiful loving friendships to dysfunctional codependency. The element I enjoyed the most about this read was the imperfect and yet realistic relationship between Elsie and Rachel.

Unless you have ever experienced narcissism first-hand, especially at the hands of a parent, then you might not be able to comprehend how accurate this portrayal is. A narcissist will always put there own self first. In fact they put the self in the word selfish. Everything is a competition and they will step over or on you and your feelings to come out on top. Every single time.

So, bearing all that in mind, it isn’t unusual for Elspeth to have cut out the toxic relationship in order to maintain a healthy life for herself. It also explains why she has no real concept of how her mother lived, how she paid for her meals or what secrets she kept hidden from her daughter.

Elsie finds herself experiencing guilt and regret, despite the times her mother has ignored, betrayed and even despised her. Who was this woman really? What kind of secrets did she have that would make someone break in and search her belongings? Too many questions and not enough answers.

I thought the ending was a wee bit like a massive info input in the last few pages, so that could have been planned differently. In fact when you consider the pace and development of the rest of the story, I think the bulk revelation at the end was a little detrimental to the tone and essence of the book.

I also believe Sorell could have built the plot purely on the whole mother and daughter relationship, without the cult and even without the dramatic ending.

Nevertheless Sorell has the heart of a storyteller, so this is just the beginning.

Buy Mothers and Other Strangers at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads or any other retailer.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphantYou can’t help but love Eleanor Oliphant, despite all her eccentricities and her complete lack of social skills.

As you read you may feel the need to give Eleanor a little nudge when she says something rude, completely inappropriate or politically incorrect.

Then at times you just want embrace and comfort her, especially when she is interacting with her mother. Or in my case I would happily give her a mother a mouthful of abuse worthy of an aggravated sailor.

The reader follows Eleanor on her path of self-discovery, as she embraces the novelty and finer nuances of friendship, and interacting with people who actually care about her. After years of complete emotional isolation she starts to test the tepid waters of unknown situations, new relationships and finally she steps out of her shell.

She seems to be unable to halt her self-inflicted cycle of punishment and destruction when she is by herself. That is when the loneliness kicks in, and the vodka helps her to forget all those terrible memories she keeps hidden deep inside her.

I have to admit to drawing the stares of a room full of people when I was reading this book. Laughing out loud and chortling to yourself in your doctor’s waiting room is, in my humble opinion, a definitive sign you have picked a cracking read. This is actually quite a heart-rending read at times, so kudos to Honeyman for being able to infuse it with a very subtle layer of humour.

This is a story about the invisible people in our society. We live in an era of disinterest and lack of compassion. People like Eleanor are often swallowed whole by the shallow and cold attitudes they encounter on a day-to-day basis. Nobody cares what they have been through or has any desire to help them get through life with a little more ease.

This is the kind of read you pass on or recommend to others, because it’s a story, a lesson and it is also a reflection of the mirror of life nearly all of us try to avoid seeing. A poignant and yet in equal measures a heart-warming reading experience.

Buy Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @GailHoneyman and @HarperCollinsUK

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

The LightAt a glance this story might seem like a long expedition into the self-absorbed meanderings of the main character. It is however much more than that.

Everyone lives in their head. In fact to be more specific, there are at least three versions of every person.

The version we show to the world, the version of us we show to our family, partners and close friends, and then there is the version that lives inside us. The one that lives in our head, the one we have internal conversations with, the version of us who voices thoughts nobody ever hears.

The Light we Lost is Lucy’s internal voice and inner version of herself. It is essentially the written dialogue of hopes, fears and desires we never share with anyone else.

I think this is a story a lot of readers will be able to identify with. If you think back upon your life you might be able to recognise certain moments you could call crossroads. Days or decisions that took you in one direction when you could have chosen another one in the same moment.

It’s the same sentiment as some of us meeting what one would call the great love of our life, but ending up letting them go or choosing a path different to theirs. In Lucy’s case this person is Gabe. Santopolo describes it quite accurately when she writes something akin to some loves are like a hearth fire, warm and cosy, and others are like raging uncontrollable bushfires. One of them is consistent and reliable, and the other leaves you breathless and disorientated.

Lucy and Gabe have a relationship filled with What-If’s and it never being the right moment in time for the two of them. A pocket full of regrets and bag full of imaginary scenarios that could have been.

I really enjoyed this book, perhaps because it is simplistic, and yet poignant. It’s like entering a secret door in someone’s head, and having a front row seat to their inner thoughts and a lifetime of emotions.

Santopolo makes you feel as if you’re sitting on your couch drinking a glass of wine listening to a friend talk about their secret love. It’s an intimate moment, and yet at the same time it is a universal one, and so is this story.

Buy The Light We Lost at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Follow @JillSantopolo