Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saving Saffron Sweeting - Book Review

Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated by England, which is a tad bit weird,  I was raised in Mexico with little to no British influence on TV or my surroundings, so no clue how I got to be an anglophile. I haven't visited the country yet, but when I do I'll be right at home thanks to books like "Saving Saffron Sweeting" by Pauline Wiles.

The story begins with Grace Palmer, a down-on-her-luck interior designer, she's a Brit living in San Francisco with her husband James. Before you can say "Keep Calm and Carry On", Grace finds out James cheated on her with her - only - client, confronts him, packs up her bags and goes back to England.

My initial reaction was "Wait a sec, let the man talk! Don't be hasty!" but as soon as Grace arrives in England I thought "James Who?". The way Pauline describes her home-coming is like an insider re-discovering her roots. The narrative is so detailed and intimate that I felt like I was experiencing things, like the chaos of Heathrow, as an every day occurrence.

Grace decides to live in the country for awhile and by chance ends up in a small town called Saffron Sweeting - I Googled it, the town doesn't exist, darn - nevertheless, this place will turn out to be exactly what she needed!

She begins to form a life, get a place to live and work, meet new friends and she finds her niche. Turns out, the town is full of extremely homesick American ex-pats and Grace is the bridge between the Americans who want to spend $$ and the English who wouldn't mind the ££ to keep their business afloat and thriving.

Here is where I get conflicting emotions, as an ardent anglophile I want her to stay in England, describe more of her life and sigh while I imagine myself there. As a romantic, I get worried she is being too hard on James and I feel for him, during the course of the story he keeps popping up. He's very sorry and truly wants her back, my heart breaks for him and I get concerned because Grace is trying to move on and actually begins dating!

The story is full of nuggets of interesting details, adorable characters and a plot that will keep you guessing what will Grace decide at the end. This is a great debut novel by Pauline Wiles, I am very grateful for the advance copy I received and be assured that my love for this book is truly my own.

I have a few more questions about England and Saffron Sweeting on the Interview with the Author.

You can find the book at Amazon:

Or visit her website for more information:

Interview with Pauline Wiles

Saving Saffron Sweeting was full of interesting tidbits about English country life, but I still had more questions for Author Pauline Wiles.

I love how you describe the life in a small town. Have you ever lived in a small town in the country?
The smallest place I've ever lived was a Scottish village near Aberdeen. The community was tight-knit and everyone knew each other's name - and business. And now, my parents live in a village just outside Cambridge, although it's larger than Saffron Sweeting and its shops are thriving. I didn't (deliberately) lift material from real life but I do think small communities provide some fun quirks and characters.

~~ Ellie side note: this beautiful pic came from Pauline's Pinterest, it's Woodbridge, Suffolk, England

Dandelion juice. Do you have a recipe for it? What does it taste like? Would it taste better with tequila or vodka in it?
Dandelion and burdock is best known as an acquired taste and I admit it's not one of my favorites. 'Medicinal' comes to mind, although other people mention root beer and even cherry cough syrup. A fairly straightforward recipe is here:
...although to be honest, if you are keen to try it, it might be simpler to just buy some on Amazon. Vodka might be a big improvement, yes!

~~Ellie side note: I did check online to see where they sold it and found this link:

You made a brief mention about warm beer, and I've always had that doubt. Is it really warm, or is it room temperature but since its always cold over there it evens out?
I think 'warm beer' is mostly an affectionate (?) term for beer that hasn't been chilled. So, yes, typically it would be room temperature. Personally, I really dislike beer, whether hot, warm or icy!

In the book, the villagers had to change their ways in order to accommodate the American way of living and thinking. Do you find that happening in small places?
I do feel small communities are changing to survive, not from the influence of any given nationality, but because our lifestyles and habits are evolving. Rather than resisting change on all levels, to me, it makes more sense for communities to find new ways to succeed together. For example, I can think of a couple of small food businesses close to Cambridge which are thriving because they're providing great quality, convenient food to a niche market.

The book was beautifully written, do you have people (editors, beta readers, writers group, therapists, etc) who helped you in your path and who you would like to mention?
Thanks for that kind comment. I feel lucky that the book got off to a great start, thanks to author Kristin Harmel and my fellow students in Media Bistro's Chick Lit class. ( Several of my beta readers came from that group and they were diligent in their critique! I also self-edited obsessively, literally hunting through the book for words which novice writers tend to over-use.
But I'm certainly still developing my writing skills and style; I'm constantly on the lookout for tips and articles on technique. There were some wonderful sessions at the San Francisco Writers Conference (, which I attended shortly before the book was published.

Make sure to visit Pauline's website, it has links to her Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. Plus more British expressions and a handy Book Club Guide. Thank You Pauline!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sophie's Turn by Nicky Wells - Book Review

Once upon a time, in Mexicali, Mexico, I was newly single and went to a metal show featuring a thrash metal band from Tijuana. I was among my friends when I spotted this super cute long-haired guy, we made eye contact, smiled and flirted from across the room. The band line-up was OK and eventually it was time for the main band to perform, to my surprise, the super cute long-haired guy was the drummer. He looked at me and he smiled at my surprise.

When the show ended he came to me and we talked, I got autographs from the band members all over my jeans with magic markers (I still have that autographed pair of pants) and the more I talked to the drummer, the less I wanted to go back home. I was invited to the after-party and I can't remember exactly how, but we ended up inside a hotel room all by ourselves. We did hug, kiss and explored with our hands, but we didn't went further than that, it was kinda innocent. I wasn't a virgin at the time, but I didn't want it to go too far and he was OK with that. It was almost 5 AM when he and the manager took me back home only to see my Dad waiting for me outside the house. My Dad was not happy.

The drummer and I kept in touch via romantic letters in the faraway time before the Internet and I'm talking Mexican postal service in the early 90's! To this day I'm amazed all our letters reached each other, eventually things ended when I decided to go back to my ex-boyfriend (another drummer). I kept all his letter, small gifts and photos he sent me, once in a while I would read them and wonder what if...

Fast-forward 16 years and thanks to MySpace I bumped into the band, contacted them and was told where I could find him. We got in contact and I went to see him perform at a bar in Tijuana. I was nervous, after all I wasn't the 20 year-old size-3 super-hot girl anymore, I was a 36 year-old size-12 super-hot woman. The reunion was bitter-sweet, he still has my letters and has thought about me but he wasn't the man in my fantasies. He was too skinny and had heartbreaking sad look in his eyes, eventually we said Good-Bye and I haven't seen him since.

Why am I telling you my personal story instead of diving into a book review? Well, I always suspected my life was like a chick-lit novel and Sophie's Turn has confirmed it! Of course, in the case of Sophie Penhalligan, the adventure was in a much more grand scale. While I had street tacos, 2 star hotel, a ride in a pick-up truck and a guitar pin, Sophie had food in the best restaurants in Europe, suites, private jets and diamond rings....ah damn, I wanna be Sophie!

In her debut novel, Nicky Wells brings us the story of Sophie, a very likable young woman with a good head on her shoulders. In the prologue we see the proposal from super-hunk, bad-boy, rock-star Dan, unfortunately Sophie can't get too excited since she is already engaged to another man. We go back to where everything began and we get to met the official fiancee, Tim, after a few chapters with him it seems like the logical choice to totally go for Dan. After all, Dan and Sophia already have a cute and romantic story together, at a concert in Edinburgh where things almost went to far in the tour bus.

The relationship between Sophie and Tim is deeply flawed. Tim is possessive and selfish, he is trying to make Sophie into his ideal of the perfect wife. While the relationship looks awful in black and white it's not hard to empathize with Sophie. I think most of us have at one time or another been in a similar relationship, and why do we stay? Sometimes not even we know. So when Tim proposes, it seems like a dream come true for Sophie and things would have run its course if it wasn't for a chance encounter with a band member from Tuscq, the band Dan used to play in. This chance encounter led Sophie to sneak out (again!) to see the band and there she re-connected with Dan.

Dan shows her the rock-star life with all the fine things money can buy and thanks to him Sophie ends up in the band tour where she gets to know Dan better. In the meantime, Tim, feeling Sophie slipping away becomes the boyfriend she always wanted, but is it too late? Eventually we come to the million-dollar question: go for the bad boy or stay with safe and secure?

I wish I could tell you my views on her ultimate decision, but I can't. I'm bound by book blogging common law not to give spoilers and ruin other readers enjoyment of the story. What I can tell you is that Sophie's Run is the second installment in the Rock Star Romance Trilogy and as soon as you finish Sophie's Turn you will get Sophie's Run (or at least that's what happened to me!)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Shades of Gray - Book Review

This is the type of story that I like, even if a person lives its entire life in a world of black and white, one small step towards light gray turns into a leap that ends up in dark gray. In his first novel Shades of Gray, Andy Holloman takes us into the lives of John, Wanda and Travis whose decisions take them little by little into situations where there is no way out.

The story begins in March 2002, when we are introduced to John and his 6 year-old daughter Lucy. The relationship between them is a loving one. As the two talk we learn that Lucy's mom is no longer in the picture and we are introduced to Wanda and her daughter Tonya.

Wanda is African-American and this fact leads to the topic of Uncle Travis, John's half-brother. Travis is a police officer with racist tendencies and a temper. John and Lucy spend a pleasant time at Chuck E Cheeses, when its time to go and they're on the road, something happens to the car and they crash.

The car crash scene is very hard to read, so real and haunting. Even writing about it is hard, you'll just have to read it.

All of the above happens in Chapter One! There are so many questions once the chapter ends. What happened to John and Lucy? What happened to the car? Was it accident or sabotage? Is there something going on between Wanda and John? I became engrossed in the story and devoured it in days!

The next chapter takes us back to 1975, where we have a sneak peak in the lives of young John, Wanda and Travis. Certain events in this period of their lives will forge the adults they will become. Then we fast-forward to July 2001 when the events that lead to the car crash began.

The characters are very believable, flawed and human. For example, Travis, he may be racist, a bad cop and temperamental, but he truly loves his family. Would he have turned out differently if his upbringing was different? In his current actions, we see his father's teachings. So maybe he really is not a bad person, only misguided? Or is that his true nature? Nothing is black or white, there are many Shades of Gray.

The scenes are very well researched and described. The plot mainly deals with drug trafficking, not only the illegal nature of it, but with the morals behind it. In a post 9-11 world, even drug traffickers and dealers need to be more creative if they are to keep in business.

The worst part once all is said and done is hindsight. What if they did this? What would have happened if they said that? What if...? What if...? But by then it's too late.

Magnificent first novel by Andy Holloman, I truly hope to see more from him!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Haunted by Maria Savva - Book Review

In the first chapter of Haunted by Maria Savva we meet Nigel, a shell of a man in his fifties. Everything he does, says, thinks or touches is tainted by his private hell. Nigel Price killed a woman 20 years earlier and got away with it.

That is it, the whole story revolves around those facts. Yet, it is not tedious, a psychological thriller like this one, if handled incorrectly, can be boring and seem like whining, not in this case, it is easy to feel the burden of regret, bad memories and the loss of the will to live.

As Nigel's shell of a life starts unraveling, we get to think: Is his private hell an appropriate punishment or should he go to jail to pay for his crime? Even though he's not in jail, he's not breathing the air of a free man, it is hard to be sympathetic to a murderer, yet Maria Savva did it in a masterful way. I kept wishing he didn't get caught, then had to remind myself he killed a person in a moment of rage and should pay. This is my inner dialogue as I read the book:

Me: Poor guy
Other Me: What do you mean poor guy? He killed Emily!
Me: But he didn't mean to
Other Me: Little consolation for her at this point
Me: And he's suffered for it
Other Me: Not enough in my opinion
Me: I wish he could forgive himself and start living life again
Other Me: Seriously???
Me: I'll just keep on reading and see what happens
Other Me: Yeah, let's do that

The story takes us back to that fateful day on the cliff, then it comes back to Nigel's life before, during and after the event ending with something hauntingly mysterious happening to him. We also get to know about Emily's life leading up to that terrible day when her life and the life of her unborn child was cut short.

The beautiful book cover conveys the story perfectly, there is Emily Baxter walking away to another world yet looking back with eyes that will follow Nigel Price as long as he lives.