Your favourite authors share their best read from this year's releases.
My choice is Jessica Ruston’s novel To Touch the Stars (Hodder Headline). This was the first novel by this author I’d read, though it certainly won’t be the last. I’m used to guessing the twists and turns of a plotline, but Jessica Ruston had me fooled from start to finish! The main story is that of Violet Cavelley, who is celebrating her 60th birthday with friends and family on the island of Capri, but it is also that of her three children. Through scenes of flashback we come to understand the events that have led up to this moment – and it slowly becomes clear that things were very much not what they seemed to be at the time. Then an old threat from the past comes back to haunt them all, leading to the final, haunting scene. An enthralling page-turner.
Sunday Times bestselling author Trisha Ashley’s latest novel, The Magic of Christmas, is out now. Visit her Facebook fanpage, her website at www.trishaashley.com or find her on Twitter @trishaashley.
My pick is My Jane Austen Summer, A Season in Mansfield Park by Cindy Jones. Lily Berry flees the harsh reality of her mother’s death, her father’s betrayal, and her callous ex to channel Fanny Price at a summer festival re-enacting Mansfield Park in the English countryside. But instead of harmonizing with her ‘inner Jane’ she falls prey to her old self-destructive ways. She must break the vicious cycle and learn from her mistakes to step into her real-life leading role if she is to ever find happiness and love outside the pages of a novel. While I love Jane Austen, I have to be honest and admit Mansfield Park is not my favorite Austen novel. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed Lily’s story, and I would imagine devout fans of Fanny Price would fully appreciate the parallels Ms Jones skilfully draws between Ms Austen’s characters and predicaments and her own. Though Lily sold most her possessions to start fresh at Newton Priors, the old manor hosting Literature Live, she brought along more than her fair share of emotional baggage. Her vulnerability and yearning to take part in her new world of Janites, actors and literary scholars had her playing - and failing at - a number of secondary roles in the personal agendas of half the cast at Newton Priors. This included her mentor’s, her roommate’s and her very own Edmund’s. I’m a sucker for a good love story, so I especially enjoyed the deep romance between Lily and the tortured Willis (her Edmund). For me, when Lily found Willis in the attic the story really picked up and drew me in. Willis helps Lily with her sorrow and gives her someone ‘real’ to look up to, while Lily offers him a new perspective to wrestle his own inner demons. While I sometimes found myself impatient with Lily for her poor decisions and self-deprecatory behavior, it is also one of the things I liked most about this book - the characters retained their genuineness in a world that would have easily allowed them to slip into fantasy. I found this story and its main characters refreshingly unpredictable. I won’t spoil the ending but let me just say it was non-traditional in a good way, and I can’t think of a more meaningful happily-ever-after for a ‘book girl’ like Lily.
Rebecca L. Boschee is the author of Mulligan Girl and Last Resort. You can find more details at her website.
The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain is about the friendship of three women who meet at UNC college in Wilmington, USA. It follows the extraordinary tale of the events which led to the suicide of Noelle, the elder of the three women, which occurs in the beginning of the book. The friends she has left behind - Tara and Emerson - embark on a journey to discover why she took her own life, learning quickly that the Noelle they both knew and loved was indeed someone utterly different than who they thought she was. She'd been harbouring a number of secrets during her lifetime, but one of them was so destructive that it tore the lives of three families apart once the women unravelled it. Little did they know the secret would be so close to home and to their hearts. Diane Chamberlain's writing style was very stylized and there was nothing disconcerting about the read which was so freshing. Many authors try to be too clever with flowery, elaborate narrative but Chambers retained a naturalistic approach throughout. She simplified what is a stunning and compelling story based on lies, compassion and ultimately forgiveness and this was my best read during 2011.
Amanda Brobyn’s second book Some Like It Hot was released in November by Poolbeg Press. Her debut novel Crystal Balls was charted within weeks of its release. See www.amandabrobyn.com for further information on Amanda and her books.
I'm a sucker for a good mystery, especially a well-written one with a lot of strong female characters, and that's exactly what I found In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault. Rose, a teenage babysitter, vanishes mysteriously after walking home from the house of her preteen charge, Nora, one evening. Nora and her best friend, Charlotte, work as "kid detectives" to try to find their beloved babysitter (thus, "the Rose notes" of the title), and the narrative shifts back and forth between Nora and Charlotte as pre-teens and Nora and Charlotte as adults. Twenty years after the night of Rose's disappearance, adult Nora is disturbed to learn that the skeletal remains of a girl have just been recovered … it could be the long-lost Rose. Nora reluctantly accepts Charlotte's invitation to reunite in their old hometown as adults to try to discover what REALLY happened to Rose. Was she murdered by the married father of one of her charges, with whom she might have been sleeping? Or did she merely run away, as she always said she might? And what about Charlotte's older brother? Could he really know nothing about Rose's disappearance? In Search of the Rose Notes is a totally engrossing, creepy psychological thriller that had everything I love - precocious pre-teens, a beautiful, smart missing girl, lush writing, a small town, and plenty of suspects who could have done it … or maybe Rose is actually alive, and simply ran away from her terrible life, the way Nora always hoped and dreamed. A perfect read, and one that will stay with you long after you put it down!
Meg Cabot is the bestselling author of books for both adults and teens, including the Queen of Babble, Heather Wells and Princess Diaries series. Her latest novels, Abandon and Overbite, are from two different paranormal series. She lives in Florida. For more details see megcabot.com.
The Sweetest Thing by Cathy Woodman is a lovely, gentle story about Jennie Copeland - a newly divorced mum of three who moves into a pink longhouse in the gorgeous town of Talyton St George in Devon and starts a business making cakes. Against her better judgment, she falls in love with her new neighbour, Guy, after embarrassingly referring to him as a ‘country bumpkin’. But life isn’t all scones and clotted cream, and Jennie has to face a mountain of problems before really being able to settle in her new home. I loved this book and I’m eagerly reading my way through the other novels in the Talyton St George series. Cathy Woodman has a lovely light touch and there’s a real warmth to her stories which carries the reader effortlessly along to a satisfying ending.
Victoria Connelly was first published in Germany where one of her books, Flight of Angels, was made into a film. She’s now writing a trilogy about Jane Austen addicts. A Weekend with Mr Darcy and The Perfect Hero are out now.
I have multiple favourite reads but if forced to choose only one, I would go for Getting Over Mr Right by Chrissie Manby. I love Chrissie Manby’s conversational writing voice. It’s her ability to connect with the reader that really does it for me. I hardly feel as though I’m reading at all, it’s more a case of hearing her characters’ voices in my head. I also admire the fact that Chrissie is not overly concerned with sticking to “would this happen in real life” story lines. If I want reality I’ll shrink my son’s favourite jumper (I just did that, he’s claiming £75 compensation), or I’ll pick up the hoover. When I want escapism, I pick up a book. Ashleigh gets dumped by Michael, the man of her dreams, her Mr Right. She’s demented with grief to the point where rationale totally escapes her. She’ll do anything, including dabble in a spot of witchcraft to win him back. Of course, the reader immediately sees Michael for the worthless bighead that he is, and you want to take Ashleigh by the throat and give her a shake because her retina blazing love for him is so undeserved. Ashleigh’s journey to the depths of despair and back is a rocky, heart-breaking and sometimes hilarious one. (You see what I mean, In real life you don’t get hilarious break-ups, do you? ) Chrissie has excelled herself with this one. I challenge anyone to read it and not thoroughly enjoy it. I certainly did.
Molly Hopkins is the author of the raunchy new rom-com series featuring Evie Dexter, tour guide extraordinaire. Molly’s first book, It Happened In Paris is out now, with It Happened in Venice percolating on the press and due for release next summer.
Oh, gosh, how can I pick just one favorite book? I read a lot, and I’ve fallen in love with so many already this year. But since I must choose, I’ll go with Sarah Addison Allen’s fourth magical realism novel, The Peach Keeper. The story depicts two women who weren’t friends growing up - loner Willa and golden girl Paxton - and how they come together to uncover secrets buried by their grandmothers, Georgie and Agatha, who were great friends many years before. One of the skeletons they unearth is, well, a skeleton of a con-man who’d conned Georgie and Agatha when they were girls. If you’ve read SAA before, you’ll love this one. If you haven’t discovered Sarah’s books yet, start at the beginning with Garden Spells. As the Lucky Charms leprechaun would say, “They’re magically delicious!”
Susan McBride’s latest novel, Little Black Dress, involves two sisters, a daughter, and a magical black dress that changes all their lives forever. She is also author of The Cougar Club and the humorous Debutante Dropout Mysteries.
Having once worked in financial services, I’m always interested in books that include a good old financial scandal, and Elin Hildebrand’s latest is inspired by one of the biggest – that of Bernie Madoff in the USA who was found guilty of defrauding millions from clients, including actors Kevin Bacon and John Malkovich. Silver Girl is the story of Meredith, who becomes the most hated woman in America when her husband Freddy is jailed for fraud. Ostracised by her glamorous friends (many of whom had invested money with Freddy) Meredith flees to Nantucket and the home of an old school-friend she hasn’t seen for some time. Connie, somewhat reluctantly, offers her a place to stay. There are plenty of engaging characters, back stories and sub-plots skilfully woven through Silver Girl’s entire narrative, while the glorious descriptions of Nantucket are so vivid you can almost taste the salt of the sea. The story itself, while dealing with Meredith’s feelings of shock and loss, is really about the friendship between her and Connie, and how two women can offer support to each other, regardless of the difficulties in their past. It deals with love, forgiveness and regret but it’s never overly sentimental and always believable. The only niggle I had was that – despite the fact that Meredith is apparently broke – she still somehow manages to end up in a gorgeous house in a stunning location, eating lobster and drinking champagne on the beach!
Sheila O’Flanagan is a bestselling author and former financial trader. Her latest book, All For You, was a number one bestseller and her Christmas collection of short stories, A Season To Remember, will be published in paperback in October.
It’s so hard to pick one book but I think my favorite (so far) of 2011 is one I recently finished reading, Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close. This was the book I heard a lot of people talking about in August and when I finally dove in by mid-September, I knew why. This was one of those books I couldn’t stop reading, couldn’t stop thinking about, and couldn’t stop texting about to my girlfriends from high school, college, and my early years in New York City to try to get them to read it, too. Girls tells the stories of a group of young women navigating their post-college personal and professional lives in NYC. And while that tagline may seem like a book read before, this book had such real, relatable, wonderfully flawed and flailing characters and was so thoughtfully and lyrically written that it was wholly unique. I thought the plotting was superb and the language mesmerized. Close did a wonderful job of evoking a time and place that I at once loved, hated, miss, and am happy is in my past. I cringed for these women, fully felt their pain, and cheered for each character as she found her way. I loved this book, and I hope you read it, too. With your best friend from college on speed dial.
Alison Pace is the author of five novels including Pug Hill and If Andy Warhol Had a Girlfriend. Her most recent novel, A Pug’s Tale (Berkley, June 2011) takes place where Pug Hill left off and follows the story of Hope McNeill and her (new) pug Max as they try to solve the mystery of a painting stolen from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Alison lives in New York City where she teaches creative writing and is at work on another book. www.alisonpace.com.
One of my favourite TV shows is The Good Wife and one of my must-read authors is Jennifer Weiner. So when I found out that Weiner’s new novel Fly Away Home had a similar plot-line to the brilliant ABC show I knew I was in for a treat. The story follows the life of Sylvie Woodruff, the wife of US senator Richard whose affair with a young lobbyist makes embarrassing national headlines. Humiliated by her husband’s high-profile infidelity, Sylvie retreats to her Connecticut beach house with her two daughters, one an ex-druggie, another an ER doctor, who she soon realises have problems of their own. What follows is not just the human story behind a political scandal but a thoughtful look at self-worth and how we can come to an understanding of who we are and what we want from our lives. Jennifer Weiner’s characterizations are so spot on you feel as if you have met them or that they exist somewhere. She creates women with flaws that you can root for until the final page has turned and has a real lightness of touch even when she is dealing with the complexities of everyday relationships - between siblings, mother, parent, child, husband, wife. Without wishing to spoil the ending, the conclusion of Fly Away Home is not perhaps as you’d hope. Then again it’s what happens in real life. And that’s what Jennifer is so brilliant at doing – creating completely believable characters and putting them in situations that pan out in a very authentic way.
Tasmina Perry is a former magazine editor and author of six Sunday Times best-selling novels, including Daddy’s Girls, Kiss Heaven Good-bye and Private Lives. She lives in London with her husband, son and too many shoes. Visit www.tasminaperry.com or follow her on twitter@tasminaperry.
I’d almost rather be pecked to death by the annoying pigeon cooing outside my window than have to pick one novel. That said, there is a book that stands out for me this year: To Marry a Prince, by Sophie Page. Normally, I’m not one who dreams of royal weddings and such; in fact, the whole thing sounds like a load of bother. Living in London, though, I couldn’t help but be swept up in wedding fever. Released just before the infamous nuptials, To Marry a Prince has the perfect ingredients to warm the heart of the most jaded republican: a feisty, independent heroine; a handsome, gentlemanly Prince; and a grumpy yet eminently likeable King. With plenty of obstacles to overcome – including the highly invasive media – Bella and Prince Richard certainly don’t have an easy time of it. But in the end … well, let’s just say this modern-day fairytale has a very happy ending.
Talli Roland is the bestselling author of The Hating Game and Watching Willow Watts. Her third novel, Build a Man, is out as an ebook in December and as a paperback in the new year. You can read more about Talli and her books at www.talliroland.com.
With two young children, I rarely get a chance to read at the moment so with a big birthday trip to Vegas with friends planned, I grabbed The Last Letter from Your Lover, by Jojo Moyes from my towering ‘to be read’ pile and hoped I had the odd minute to dip into it. During the flight and a few pages in, I was gripped. The prologue introduces us to Ellie Haworth – a journalist who has taken her eye off the ball at work, mostly because of her ill-fated affair with a married man. Whilst trying to produce a piece for the newspaper, Ellie happens upon a touching love letter which moves her to tears and has her wondering about the person who wrote the poignant words. A new story set in 1960 then begins, focusing on a woman named Jennifer who is recovering from a horrific accident in hospital. With her memory impaired, Jennifer tries hard to return to her life with her rather cold, dismissive husband, knowing something is amiss. As she discovers a secret love letter and realises she had been involved in a passionately romantic liaison before her accident, Jennifer’s story unfolds in flashbacks, neatly entwined with accounts of her attempts to track down her absent lover as her memory slowly returns. I absolutely loved this novel. The beautifully crafted combination of Ellie’s modern-day affair and Jennifer’s 1960’s passionate love story is both intriguing and moving and the characters have been richly developed. You are swept along by the glamorous account of dinner parties, stylish clothes and cocktails, but more so by the romantic letters written by the eloquent ‘B’. The climax of the novel (which literally gave me a lump in my throat and had me reading into the early hours in Vegas when I should have been taking advantage of the chance of a decent sleep for a change), is tragic, bitter-sweet and achingly romantic. Love, passion and loss – The Last Letter from Your Lover is an exquisitely tender account of two people who find each other, lose each other and find each other again. This is the first novel I have read by Jojo Moyes, but I will definitely be getting my hands on her other ones after this!
Sasha Wagstaff left a successful career in banking to become an author and her books include Changing Grooms, Wicked Games and the recently released Heaven Scent. Recipe for Love, Sasha’s fourth novel, is due for release in paperback next year. For more information about Sasha, including upcoming events, competitions and book news, visit Sasha's website: www.sashawagstaff.com.
I've read some fabulous books this year - and I'm sure 2011 is going to go down as a truly vintage year for fiction! My favourite book by a long way is Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. It begins with a woman called Christine waking up - she has a condition which means she loses her memory every time she goes to sleep and has to start afresh everyday. The writing is really strong and the novel cleverly crafted so you watch, intrigued, as Christine starts her life afresh every morning - with you knowing increasingly more than Christine as each day begins and the story unfolds. Christine is loved and cared for by a deeply considerate husband who every morning painstakingly explains everything - her whole life - to her, time and time again. Christine begins to keep a journal, writing down what happens to her each day, something recommended by her doctor who calls her to remind her of her journal and where it's hidden. Each day she reads what she's previously written and slowly, slowly things begin to unravel. Brilliant and compelling, it takes women's contemporary fiction to a whole new level.
Sue Welfare is a novelist who has written around 25 novels under various pen names. Her latest novel, The Surprise Party, is published by Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins. You can find out more about Sue and her work at www.katelawson.co.uk.