Review of ‘Full English’ by Rachel Spangler.

Emma Volant is an American best-selling author that, after a nasty divorce, decides to leave the US for a small town in North Eastern England. Full of insecurities and low self esteem, she slowly starts to interact with people in the village, specially Brogan McKay, the pub’s bartender and job multitasker. As Emma and Brogan’s friendship grows so does their mutual attraction, but, Emma needs time to heal and Brogan thinks Emma is out of her league. Will they have a happily ever after?

According to the author, this book was conceived after Ms. Spangler and her family spent 9 months living in the north east of England. In her notes, the author described the challenges of writing a book set in England with American and English main characters. As a reader based in Northern Ireland, I appreciate her efforts to explain her spelling choices and pronunciation guidelines for the otherwise perplexing Irish names. I’ve heard so many times people butchering my sons’ Irish names that her endeavour is appreciated.

This book is as much a romance as a crash course in British culture. The author goes beyond highlighting the obvious differences in spellings and regional words and opens up a world of different types of food, habits and social conventions. I found that Ms. Spangler researched the issue well and I found her descriptions of the landscape, the weather and social classes’ issues very realistic. As a foreigner in the UK, I concur with Emma’s problems while driving on the left side and her newfound love for scones and clotted cream!

Written in third person from the point of view of both main characters, I found the book slow in developing the romance mainly because there are a good number of secondary characters and a whole set of cultural differences that needed to be introduced. Some readers who aren’t interested in the clash of cultures or life in small towns might find the pace of the romance too slow. However, once the romance part of the story starts developing, their personal issues and their conflict is realistic and credible.

Having said that, while in most of the book both characters voiced their feelings so well, the later stages of their conflict felt a bit forced. The secondary characters are well rounded, even considering that there were lots of them. While I recognise the ubiquitous gossip of small towns, I’m not convinced that the meddling in the mains’ love life is characteristic of British or Irish families. The McKays might be an exception but, in my experience, I find that both British and Irish people, while they love their gossip, they tend not to voice or meddle with other people’s affairs. That’s my only criticism in the depiction of British and Irish cultures as I found that the rest was spot-on.

Overall, a very good story about American and British culture clash with a moving romance at the side. 4.5 stars.

ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘A recipe for love’ by Lucy J. Madison.

Danika Russo is a newly retired 55 year old who is going through a life crisis after having taken care of her terminally ill partner and father. As she loves cooking, she decides to enroll in an Italian cooking class. There she meets gorgeous classmate Finn Gerard who is 15 years younger. Their attraction is undeniable but Finn hides a secret and doesn’t want to commit to Danika. Will they have their happily ever after?

The main character in this book is Italian cuisine. The author’s maternal family is Italian and she┬áremembers how important is cooking for them, how they show love through food. All over this novel, there are lots of food descriptions and metaphors and an appendix with some of the author’s own recipes. I suggest not reading it when you are hungry!

‘A recipe for love’ is written in third person solely from Danika’s point of view which is ideal as it keeps Finn’s mysterious behaviour a secret. It’s good to see that Ms. Madison wrote in Danika an older, slightly overweight and flawed character. Danika suffers from low self esteem, insecurity and negative body image. At the beginning, she reflects a lot about her past and lost opportunities which can be tedious and depressing but, throughout the book, it’s good to see her transformation. However, the gravity of the plot never shifts completely until the very end. Natalie, Danika’s best friend, is a great secondary character who brings a bit of much needed levity to the story.

The reader doesn’t get to know Finn except for her being younger and beautiful. Even though there is insta-attraction and insta-love, the mains remain separated most of the book. Their chemistry feels a bit off, possibly because the narrative distance is quite remote in the romance parts where the author uses more tell than show, specially in the sex scenes which sometimes are mentioned as an afterthought. I dropped my rating for this reason along with a few minor typos.

Overall, this is an ok age-gap romance that deals with serious issues such as terminal illness and the meaning of life, all surrounded by the sensuality of food. 3.5 stars.

ARC provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

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Review of ‘Listen’ by Kris Bryant.

‘Listen’ is part of the ‘Senses’ series by this author along with ‘Taste’ and ‘Touch’. It’s the story of Lily Croft, a former Classical music’s child prodigy who quit music altogether unable to handle the pressure of her career. She now suffers from anxiety and works as an actuary trying to keep to herself. One day she hears beautiful piano music coming from The Leading Note, a music education charity. Slowly she gets drawn to the place and its founder, Hope D’Marco, who is a very talented musician. Will Lily bring her walls down to accept Hope into her world or will her anxiety prove to be too much?

This novel is written in first person, as it is usual for Ms. Bryant, from the point of view of Lily. In my opinion, it is the right choice as the reader spends a lot of time in Lily’s headspace and can experience how anxiety affects her. The author, a sufferer of anxiety herself, has poured her heart out in this book. My understanding of this subject has increased exponentially from seeing it as an outsider to an insider perspective. It’s curious how Ms. Bryant stresses the role of music in calming her own anxiety and how music is the source of conflict for Lily. Anxiety comes in many forms.

After a childhood full of pressure to perform as the music prodigy she was, music for Lily is something to conquer, not a source of pleasure. By contrast, random surrounding noises calm her down. Hope understands this perfectly and prompts her to describe what she can hear in different life situations. That simple mechanism seems to bring about Lily’s musicality without any anxiety. Ms. Bryant describes this soundscape with some exquisite metaphors, it’s true what they say that music is everywhere. The whole book is beautifully written and makes the reader’s heart go out to people suffering from anxiety or any sort of mental health issue.

The characters are multilayered and well written in their strengths and weaknesses. Lily’s low self-esteem but, at the same time, her will to go out of her comfort zone, and Hope’s insecurities but positive personality, make them so human and loveable. Their chemistry together is incredibly off the charts and their intimate scenes are really well done. The secondary characters, including a very skittish and empathic cat, complete the cast perfectly. For me, as a former musician, the music scenes are realistic and bring out its beauty. All in all, it’s been a pleasure to read.

Overall, an excellent novel about anxiety, music, love and getting out of one’s comfort zone. 5 stars.

ARC provided by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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