The Villa – Rosanna Ley

What to Expect:

When Tess Angel receives a solicitor’s letter inviting her to claim her inheritance – the Villa Sirena, perched on a clifftop in Sicily – she is stunned. Her only link to the island is through her mother, Flavia, who left Sicily during World War II and cut all contact with her family. Initially resistant to Tess going back to her roots, Flavia realises the secrets from her past are about to be revealed and decides to try to explain her actions. Meanwhile, Tess’ teenage daughter Ginny is stressed by college, by her blooming sexuality and filled with questions that she longs to ask her father, if only she knew where he was.

Three women, all seeking answers. Will Villa Sirena bring them together – or drive them apart?

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Although all three women feature in their own chapters, the lead is Tess, who was thrust into adulthood when she became a single parent to Ginny (now eighteen), and has coped ever since. When we meet, Tess is seeing a married man- hated by her friends and family- but her trip to Sicily is their make-or-break point. Tess is quite mature for her (thirty-nine) years, level headed and pleasantly assertive, but struggling to maintain her close relationship with Ginny.

Kooks for your Kindle?– I can’t really call everyone ‘characters’, they are more like real people. It’s always a pleasure to get lost in a book that feels like it’s a real world. Flavia has an interesting history, not just the WWII era- after which she left Sicily for good- but the following years as she settled in England. She’s a woman of secrets, who finally gains the courage to share them with her family. Ginny is having a crisis of her own; boys, life, friends, education, work, what’s a girl to do. Amazingly her long lost father, who abandoned her before she was born, turns out to be the one she relates to.

In Sicily, we have Giovanni, descended from the family that Flavia and Tess’s own fell out with. He’s a strong character who initially thinks he can control Tess- but what is it he wants exactly? Tonino is descended from another family connected to Flavia, he’s an artist doing magical things with sea glass while fighting some inner demons.

Painting a Picture for your Paperback?– I’ve spent some time in Calabria and Sicily, and I can say that this brings it all back. It’s another world with its own rules and traditions, and god forbid you should fall afoul of the local men-in-charge. The beauty of the island, the food and the sea are brought to life by this skilled author. As a scuba diver I also appreciate a little underwater action too.

Evaluation of your eBook?– It’s a gorgeous, atmospheric, engrossing read, with Sicily brought to life through food, people and history. The shady southern Italian ways seem pretty accurate, with men accustomed to getting their own way and families feuding with each other. It’s a long book, something to get your teeth into, with a likable heroine. The mother-daughter-granddaughter dynamic is at the forefront, with all its complexities. It’s a gentle book for all ages, possibly more for the 30+ market.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for 56p

US: Kobobooks for $4.99, Amazon for $9.99.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What to Expect:

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.
Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face?
Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, ‘Americanah’ is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalized world.

I’m doing a mini-review for this one as it’s not at all frothy, but it’s a must-read and there’s no way I can do it justice. The title refers to the nickname given to Nigerians who return home from time in America, full of the culture and accent and feeling a little superior to their compatriots. Ifemelu is decidedly different, she made a conscious decision not to adopt an American accent and began a blog in America with an outsider’s social commentary, majoring in Race, with a side degree in Hair.

It’s a big saga, although we meet Ifemelu as she’s deciding to return to Nigeria we have flashbacks to her childhood, her student years, her decision to go to the US, her life and relationships there, and her turning point. We also have her childhood sweetheart Obinze, his time as an illegal in the UK, and his success back home. Finally we find out what happens when they are both back home, struggling to find their place now that they are equipped with new perspectives.

It’s an amazing tale by such a talented writer. The observations by Ifemelu are incredibly astute. Her experiences in the US as a ‘Non American Black’ are wildly different to that of American Blacks, and her blog entries on the subject are fascinating. Ifemelu’s need to return home is the catalyst for the rest of the tale. Give it a shot. I’d never given much thought to most of the topics involved and even I couldn’t put it down- that’s the power of great writing.

Frothy Ranking: 5/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:
UK: Amazon for £2.99.

US: Kobobooks for $14.29 and Amazon for $8.99.

The Flavours of Love- Dorothy Koomson

What to Expect:

‘I’m looking for that perfect blend of flavours; the taste that used to be you. If I find it, I know you’ll come back to me.’

It’s been 18 months since my husband was murdered and I’ve decided to finish writing The Flavours of Love, the cookbook he started before he died. Everyone thinks I’m coping so well without him – they have no idea what I’ve been hiding or what I do away from prying eyes. But now that my 14-year-old daughter has confessed something so devastating it could destroy our family all over again, and my husband’s killer has started to write to me claiming to be innocent, I know it’s only a matter of time before the truth about me and what I’ve done is revealed to the world.

My name is Saffron Mackleroy and this is my story.

I decided to turn this into a mini-review as it’s not remotely frothy. I’ve been reading Dorothy’s books for as long as she’s been published; the first few were intelligent, thoughtful, fun and frothy. With The Ice Cream Girls they took a turn for the psychological thriller. These more recent books are still fabulously readable, possibly better; she’s definite found her genre.

Don’t be fooled by the title or talk of the cook book, that’s not really what this is all about. It’s a tense tale of how Saffron has been holding it together since her lovely husband’s murder, keeping her family going, keeping secrets. Her daughter has big news, news that means Saffron cannot go to the police about the letters from her husband’s killer. The secrets are slowly revealed, including horrifying ones from her daughter.

Saffron’s a great heroine who finds the strength to do things her way, risking her own health and safety to protect her family. The tension builds nicely to a very cleverly plotted finale.

I read this while on holiday and every day I couldn’t wait to get back into it every day to find out the whole story.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for £4.12, although recently it was £1.79, so click price for the latest.

US: Kobobooks for $10.19, not on Amazon.

Left Drowning – Jessica Park

What To Expect:

What does it take to rise from life’s depths, swim against the current, and breathe?
Weighted down by the loss of her parents, Blythe McGuire struggles to keep her head above water as she trudges through her last year at Matthews College. Then a chance meeting sends Blythe crashing into something she doesn’t expect—an undeniable attraction to a dark-haired senior named Chris Shepherd, whose past may be even more complicated than her own. As their relationship deepens, Chris pulls Blythe out of the stupor she’s been in since the night a fire took half her family. She begins to heal, and even, haltingly, to love this guy who helps her find new paths to pleasure and self-discovery. But as Blythe moves into calmer waters, she realizes Chris is the one still strangled by his family’s traumatic history. As dark currents threaten to pull him under, Blythe may be the only person who can keep him from drowning.

This is our second from Jessica, after Flat Out Love, which was also set in American university life, and a top read. This one also works for an older audience, but some aspects reminded me of YA sensation Twilight, without all the mormon chastity: Chris and his siblings had echoes of the Cullens (Estelle especially, she was a bit Alice) and a lack of real parents; they were rich and aloof from other students; also Chris let his hang-ups get in the way of things with Blythe and at one point devastatingly abandoned her. I imagine no serious author would aspire to Stephenie Meyer comparisons, but those books are a guilty pleasure of mine (despite me wanting to slap the heroine throughout all 4 books), and Left Drowning is a better quality read for an older audience- with a not-at-all-annoying heroine!

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Blythe is a mess; she’s struggled through the previous four years since the accident that took her parents and badly injured her brother, and still feels responsible. Now in her last year of university she meets someone who enables her to face up to her demons. Blythe is surprisingly self aware, she knows she has to get back out there and heal, but is alone and struggling.

Kooks for your Kindle?– Chris has all the makings of the kind of guy a lonely college girl would fall for; charismatic, intense, attractive, understanding, controlling, and he claims to be no good for her. He’s older than his years, but is quite childish in the way he tries to push Blythe away. The second Shepherd brother Sabin is the dramatic one of the family, an aspiring actor who drinks too much and becomes a great friend and ally to Blythe. The youngest siblings: Estelle is friendly, generous, stylish, swears like a sailor but is a devout bible-basher. Her twin brother Eric is quiet and watchful, devoted to his boyfriend Zach. All four of the siblings have sustained different damages- but how? Blythe has a younger brother of her own, James, they’ve lost the ability to relate to each other- but the time has come for some honesty and to revisit their childhood home.

Painting a Picture for your Paperback?– There’s a feeling of inevitability between Blythe and Chris; they are clearly each other’s lobster. The cool atmosphere of the book is gorgeous, whether at their wintery college town on a lake, or at Blythe’s inherited summer house in Maine.

Nookie for your Nook?– Very steamy. No Twilight comparisons there.

Evaluation of your eBook?– It’s quite an heartfelt ride and easy to lose yourself in it. I probably would have read it all in one sitting if I hadn’t been so tired when I started it, although it’s a bit lengthy for a single outing. It’s easy to empathise with the characters straight off, and they all go on an epic journey in the couple of years covered. Blythe quickly becomes part of the Shepherd family, changing all of their lives. Although its characters are all in their early twenties it was quite a grownup story and can definitely be recommended for older readers. The themes of loss, guilt, passion, abuse and addiction give it a mature feel. I found the very end a tiny bit cheesy, and must confess to working out the twist- but I vastly enjoyed it nonetheless, it’s a very satisfying rollercoaster of emotions. Jessica is such a great author with amazing descriptive powers and is able to build great suspense with the mysteries gradually playing out.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for £1.99, although the price varies, occasionally 99p so click the price for the latest.

US: Amazon for $3.99.

Take Me Home – Daniela Sacerdoti

What to Expect:

Inary Monteith’s life is at a crossroads. After a stolen night with her close friend Alex, she’s just broken his heart by telling him it was all a terrible mistake. Then she has to rush home from London to the Scottish Highlands when her little sister’s illness suddenly worsens – and in returning she must confront the painful memories she has been trying so hard to escape.
Back home, things become more complicated than she could ever have imagined. There’s her sister’s illness, her hostile brother, a smug ex she never wants to see again and her conflicted feelings about Alex in London and a handsome American she meets in Glen Avich. On top of that, she mysteriously loses her voice but regains a strange gift from her childhood – a sixth sense that runs in her family. And when a voice from the past keeps repeating, ‘Take me home’, she discovers a mystery that she knows she must unlock to set herself free.

This is our second review for Daniela, her last book Watch Over Me was lovely, and this one continues in a similar vein with some sadness and some ghostly elements. It’s also set in Glen Avich again and we bump into some old friends, but it’s not a sequel as such, the main characters are new. It’s engrossing and not very long so I devoured it in two evenings.

Kooks for your Kindle?– A really nice collection of supporting characters, family and friends. Lesley is her best mate, originally Caribbean, and the kind of supportive girl you want around when you lose the ability to speak for months and start seeing dead people. Inary’s brother Logan is the only one who knows about her sight, and is alarmed to hear of its return- but he has plenty of issues of his own, mostly stemming from his resentment of Inary for leaving him to take care of their sick little sister alone. Tyler is a friend of Logan, he’s American; while in town for a project he befriends Inary and becomes quite useful in her quest to solve the mystery.

Inary’s ex-fiance Lewis is the guy we all love to hate, smug enough to warrant a good take-down, even if Inary does have to scribble her cutting comments on a notepad for him to read! Finally the lovely Alex is left behind in London to try and accept that Inary doesn’t want him- can he move on and find happiness at last?

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Inary starts off in a bad place and it’s downhill from there. She’s living in London with good friends but a mediocre job, not pursuing her true passion of writing, and she’s avoiding her family problems back in Scotland. When her little sister takes a turn for the worse she has to return- and face the older brother that was left holding down the fort when Inary ran off with a broken heart three years before. This time she’s the one leaving a broken heart- her friend Alex in London, who finally thought they’d found happiness when she spent the night with him.

It takes Inary time to find her feet back home- not least because of her mysterious loss of voice and the return of her ghostly visions. But she finds the strength to face up to everything, even her own ghosts of (living) boyfriends past, and solve the mystery that the spirits present.

Painting a Picture for your Paperback?– It’s refreshing to return to the peace and fresh air of the small Scottish town on the loch, where the height of modernisation is the new coffee shop. It’s very atmospheric, the misty, spooky scenes on the lake are quite terrifying. The locals are back in force, which prove quite suffocating for the very private Inary, but that’s the nature of this small town, everyone knows your life history.

Evaluation of your eBook?– Couldn’t put it down. You can’t not fall for a tale of a wounded young woman facing further adversity and finding strength, but it’s so lovingly written too. Once again I’m amazed that such an eloquent, elegant story is written by the author in their second language, you’d never know. With all the sadness, heartbreak and tragic ghosts you’d think this would be a depressing tale and not remotely frothy, but instead it’s uplifting, romantic, fast-moving and quite positive. Don’t miss it.

Frothy Ranking: 5/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for 69p.

US: Not on Amazon, but only $1.70 on Kobobooks.

The Best Thing I Never Had – Erin Lawless

What to Expect:
Five years ago at university they had been seven friends that laughed hard and loved harder.
Nicky and Miles were the couple that were always meant to be… Leigha and Adam, not so much…
So when Adam and Harriet grew close during endless days in the library, they did the one thing that changed everything – they kept a secret. And when it came out, it all fell apart.
When the day comes for bridesmaids to be chosen and best men to fulfil drunken promises, Nicky and Miles’ wedding isn’t just a wedding, it’s a reunion – loaded with past hurts, past regrets, past loves…

The tale begins with present-day wedding plans, before flashing back for more than half the book to the student dramas of 5-7 years prior, then to the wedding weekend reunion itself and its aftermath.

Kooks for your Kindle?– It took a couple of chapters to get to know the 4 main girls, but they emerge as very distinct characters. Harriet is self contained with a quiet confidence, the opposite of flashy, gorgeous, insecure Leigha. Sukie mainly observed the comings and goings with sardonic comments, trying unsuccessfully to stay out of it. Nicky was caught up in an intense relationship with older guy Miles, and losing herself in the process. The guys were another mixed bunch, Miles was grown up and focused on his future, Johnny was less mature and obsessed with Leigha, finally Adam was the guy Leigha wanted, but he only had eyes for Harriet. Not really a love triangle, or even a square, more of a map of the underground.

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– The girls here are young, even in the present day parts they are around 26, but quite mature with it, except maybe for Leigha. Her insecurities were the main catalyst for all the secrecy and betrayal. There’s a fabulous scene at the wedding where it’s all addressed.

Painting a Picture for your Paperback?– If you went to university in the last 30 years it was probably a lot like this; housemates; house parties; day time telly; cheap booze; student union bar; romantic and friendship dramas. It brings it all back, along with the feeling when you all get together again in adulthood with the bonds remaining.

Evaluation of your eBook?– This is such a strong, assured novel, it’s hard to believe it’s the author’s debut. The characters are all believable, not always likable, but always easy to empathise with. The tone is quite serious, not so frothy, and could be appreciated by people much older than the main characters. The fast pace is maintained throughout, various little mysteries keep the reader in suspense until nearer the end. Speaking of which- its not tied up too neatly, but there is a satisfying sense of fairness and closure with everybody’s individual outcomes.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for 99p.

US: Amazon for $2.99 or Kobobooks for $6.39.

The Last Telegram – Liz Trenow

What to expect:

The war changed everything for Lily Verner.

As the Nazis storm Europe, Lily becomes an apprentice at her family’s silk weaving factory. When they start to weave parachute silk there is no margin for error: one tiny fault could result in certain death for Allied soldiers.

The war also brings Stefan to Lily: a German Jewish refugee who works on the looms. As their love grows, there are suspicions someone is tampering with the silk.

Can their love survive the hardships of war? And will the Verner’s silk stand the ultimate test?

I am partial to a bit of historical fiction, such a painless way of learning. World War 2 is one of my favourite eras to investigate too, so this did the job. While I never expected to find silk production interesting, the author makes it so, especially as the material becomes of life-saving importance.

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Lily begins the book as a very young woman whose only concern is losing out on her trip to Austria, but as the war takes hold she becomes more involved in the family silk business and is surprised to develop a love for it. People grow up fast in these circumstances, and Lily is no exception, handling the responsibility well. She finds the strength to cope with all the tragedies thrown at her over the next few years. I was glad she didn’t spend too much time with the wrong man, and the flashback structure kept her husband’s identity hidden until the end.

Kooks for your Kindle?– A great selection of original characters here, such as Lily’s adventurous granddaughter, keen to learn of her grandmother’s adventures before it’s too late. Robbie, Lily’s suitor and customer of the family business is just the type to prey on an innocent young woman. Gwen helps run the factory and is a woman ahead of her time, letting Lily in on her scandalous secrets as they become loyal friends. Stefan is one of the Jewish refugees that the Verners employ and house; despite their different backgrounds he becomes very important to Lily but his safety isn’t assured even away from his home country.

Painting a Picture for your Paperback?– From gin and tonics in the English countryside to the horrors of the blitz in London, it’s all here.

Evaluation of your eBook?– This is one of those books that sticks with you for a while even once it’s ended. It’s good for readers of all ages and is surprisingly gripping; as the introduction begins with Lily in old age there’s quite a hook to keep you guessing what happened in the meantime. If you prefer your fiction on the extremely frothy side then you might find this a bit staid, but give it a chance for a well written, researched and heartfelt read, with tragedy, romance, some wartime hardship and happy endings for some.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for £2.48.

US: Amazon for $11.97 or Kobobooks for $7.39.

The Castaways – Elin Hilderbrand

What to expect:

They hadn’t known, then, what was coming. They didn’t know about September 11th, they didn’t know about miscarriages and love affairs, they didn’t know about a girl named April Peck. They didn’t know they were going to die. Back then, they had been happy.’ From the outside, the close-knit circle of friends calling themselves ‘the Castaways’ share an idyllic lifestyle on the charming island of Nantucket, blessed with money, children, beauty and love. But when Tess and Greg are killed in a tragic boating accident, orphaning their seven-year-old twins, it sends devastating shockwaves through the rest of the group. As the friends grieve, the truth behind their relationships gradually begins to emerge in a chain of staggering revelations. And for the first time they are forced to ask the hardest of questions. Can you live without the person who made you whole? And how do you mourn for a secret lover and a relationship nobody knew existed? An utterly absorbing novel exploring the tangle of secrets and lies that can lurk beneath even the closest of relationships …

Full disclosure: This is NOT a frothy read- but if you fancy something different, it’s gripping, and it’s a bargain (at current prices anyway). So, on with a mini-review.

The format works well, beginning with the accident, then offering chapters from the perspective of the other 6 castaways, in rotation. In this manner the story is gradually spilled with evenly paced revelations along the way. Events leading up to the accidents intermingle with the aftermath; cause and effect changing all the characters. The leads vary in age through their thirties and forties and greatly differ in personalities too, from the staid police chief to the young, kindly Tess. As we go along secrets are revealed- love triangles, temptation, loss, drug use, mental health, how can they get past all this and still be the group they used to be?

The threads intertwine beautifully and reveal more about the accident and more about who they all really are. It’s not hard to care about the characters, regardless of what they’ve done. It’s so well crafted and readable you’ll devour it in no time- although it’s longer than your average frothy read so something to get your teeth into. Lastly, the book also serves as an ode to Nantucket, which sounds like a lovely picturesque island.

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for 99p.

US: Amazon for $6.15, or $7.99 on kobobooks.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

This is another must-read book of the summer according to many, and with good reason. It’s not remotely frothy so I’m not giving it the full treatment, just an honourable mention! It’s the intriguing tale of a woman who goes missing on the morning of her fifth anniversary, and her husband who becomes prime suspect. We hear from Nick immediately after the disappearance, and Amy, via her diaries in the years leading up to it. The characters are hugely well defined with masses of background, personality and distinctive voices. One of the things that struck me was that this could be a masterclass in writing from the first person point of view, complete with an unreliable narrator at times- who’s telling the truth?

It’s a tense ride, masterfully plotted with many revelations along the way and if you like your endings neatly tied up with a bow then you may be slightly disappointed- but I thought the ending was perfectly apt.

UK: Amazon for £2.99

US: Amazon for $12.99 or kobobooks for $8.68.

By My Side – Alice Peterson

One of the great things about reviewing books is that when you finish one you can’t mindlessly dive into the next one- you have to take a bit of time to process what you’ve just read. The standout for me here is that this is amazingly well researched. We’ve covered a couple of Alice Petersons here already, and this one seems the most ambitious.

Cass is a medical student, happily fulfilling her lifelong career dream and falling in love with her boyfriend Sean. Her world comes crashing down when she is hit by a car and suffers a spinal injury that leaves her paralysed from the waist down. Once Sean has scarpered and Cass has moved in with her parents to adjust to her new life, she discovers a whole new world of rehabilitation, getting around, dogs, friendships, action-packed holidays, and possibly love.

Kooks for your Kindle?– Where to start? So many great characters here. The star was Ticket, Cass’s trained helper dog who performs impressive feats to make Cass’s life easier and keep her out of danger. Cass’s Mum is a well layered character who surprises even herself by pushing Cass to get out into the world instead of coddling her. Guy and Dom are similarly afflicted friends from Cass’s time in hospital, they form a strong bond as they head back into the world with varying levels of success. Cass meets Charlie on a ski trip, he’s able-bodied and she ends up moving into his spare room when she returns to London. Their relationship is unpredictable and as complicated as you might imagine.

The Bella-Swan-Pathetically-Self-Sacrificing-Factor– Cass has above-normal levels of resilience in her journey to adapt to her new life, and startles everyone around her with brave decisions, some of which turn out well, others not so much. The only area she struggles with is her old life as a medical student, and instead moves towards charity work.

Painting a picture for your paperback?– This book is an amazing insight into the nightmare that is spinal injury, from the accident to rehabilitation, all the way through to adaptation, acceptance and finally enjoying life again. Details of little things that you wouldn’t normally consider make the story very real.

Evaluation of your eBook?– For such a serious subject the book was very readable, almost light in tone. Despite Cass’s setbacks she still has the normal problems for someone of her age in the areas of dating, career, friendships, family and where to live. I like a book that makes little time jumps to the next interesting period in someone’s life, but I would have been interested in seeing a little more of the time immediately following her injury because that is mainly covered in flashback snippets. At least we get right to the business of learning to lead a new life, and it’s quite engrossing. It’s funny, heartwarming, tragic and memorable. And you’ll never take your legs for granted again!

Frothy Ranking: 4/5 cocktails.

Can be obtained from:

UK: Amazon for £5.03.

US: Not on Amazon, but can be found on Kobobooks for $9.39.