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The Secret of Happy Ever After by Lucy Dillon

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “When Anna takes over Longhampton’s bookshop, it’s her dream come true. And not just because it gets her away from her rowdy stepchildren and their hyperactive dalmatian. As she unpacks boxes of childhood classics, Anna can’t shake the feeling that maybe her own fairytale ending isn’t all that she’d hoped for. But as the stories of love, adventure, secret gardens and giant peaches breathe new life into the neglected shop, Anna and her customers get swept up in the magic too. Even Anna’s best friend Michelle – who categorically doesn’t believe in true love and handsome princes – isn’t immune. But when secrets from Michelle’s own childhood come back to haunt her, and disaster threatens Anna’s home, will the wisdom and charm of the stories in the bookshop help the two friends – and those they love – find their own happy ever afters?”

REVIEW: I absolutely adored this book right from the moment I read the blurb. I think the fact that I run a book blog pretty much screams from the rooftops that I’m an avid book lover, and Anna has what would be pretty much my dream job – running an independent bookshop with lots of personal touches that becomes an area of significance for the local community, and causes even those characters whom we think will never get along to forge bonds. What is less known about me from readers of the blog is that I also adore dogs. We rescued a retired greyhound in 2013 and he is the most important thing in the world to me; I don’t know what I did without him in my life to cuddle, push my books on the floor, fall asleep on my laptop and tear up the grass in the garden by pretending he’s still running on a racetrack. So it was lovely for me to find a chick lit book that combined my two favourite things (other than pizza) – books and dogs – and, more importantly, that wasn’t predictable. This is a problem that often puts me off reading chick lit, but this book was far more meaningful than any ordinary fluffy piece of fiction. Dillon deals with real issues while still making the book entertaining, heartwarming and extremely difficult to put down! Anna’s struggles with her home life, where she feels out of place after her husband’s three daughters from a previous marriage – Becca, Chloe and Lily – arrive with their dog Pongo (who sounds very similar to my own dog in terms of his behaviour!) and soak up all of her husband’s attention and her own time. Anna’s desire for a baby of her own is something I think Dillon writes brilliantly; the reader really feels for Anna, and feels her pain when others around her get their wish while she is left looking after other people’s children rather than her own. Anna’s difficulties are mirrored by her best friend Michelle, who is pretty miserable herself after having to abandon her own dog in order to run away from a psychologically abusive ex-husband, whom her family all adore and are desperate for her to return to. Both women form a strong bond, and even when their ups and downs begin to turn them away from each other, this is still a story of real and true friendship, and of realistic relationships that aren’t always as perfect  – or as fulfilling – as we might expect them to be. When I finished the book I was sad to leave the characters behind, as they are all so likeable and I had grown attached to many of them; especially the dogs, Pongo and Tavish. I would highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more of Dillon’s novels!

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Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Princess Mia’s life in New York City is one glamorous whirlwind. Not only does she have to deal with nosy gossip columnists on a daily basis and the paparazzi following her every move, she’s also expected to enchant wealthy strangers at royal engagements. Speaking of engagements…Mia’s gorgeous long-term boyfriend Michael has popped The Question on an exotic Caribbean island. Finally they’re ready to settle down…or so she thought. When Mia and Michael return from their romantic hideaway, they discover that they are embroiled in a scandal of majestic proportions! A scandal that could turn the normally calm Michael into a runaway groom….Worse still, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne. Mia may be ready to wed, but is she ready to rule as well?”

REVIEW: I grew up absolutely obsessed with the original Princess Diaries series. When I was younger I used to get the audiobooks out from my local library and listen to them before bed, and in my teenage years I devoured every book in the series over and over, and cried my eyes out when I finally finished what I thought would be the final instalment. I had always identified with the shy, geeky, awkward girl that Mia was on the inside, and losing her felt like losing a friend I’d had for years. So you can imagine how excited I was when I read that a new installment was to be released. Cabot has not changed Mia a bit, despite the events that have occurred in the life of our favourite Genovian Princess since she graduated from high school in the last book; her stepfather Mr Gianni is dead, leaving the way open for her father to win back her mother at last; her close friends Tina Hakim-Baba and Boris Pelowski (now an international superstar) have broken up; and she is being attacked by protesters, and a mysterious stalker, over her plans to allow refugees into Genovia.Thankfully, some things have stayed the same for Mia; her boyfriend Michael has remained a constant and I was ecstatic to read more about their relationship – and for him to propose! – in this novel. She also still has her best friend Lilly Moscovitz, Michael’s sister, and her beloved cat Fat Louie. Over the course of the novel, however, which retains Cabot’s witty, funny and briliiantly relatable style, many twists and turns take place which make Mia’s path to the throne even more stressful than usual. I don’t want to spoil them here, but I will say that there will be many surprises for previous readers of the series, all of them guaranteed to bring a smile. I can’t wait to see if Cabot is going to write any further books about the brilliant Mia Thermopolis, and I will certainly be reading them if she does.

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Eight years ago, Anne rejected the man she loved because her friends and family persuaded her that he wasn’t rich or important enough. In all that time, she’s never found anyone to match Captain Wentworth – and now he’s back: successful, sophisticated and still single. Unfortunately for Anne, it’s his turn to reject her. With her snobbish father and spoiled sister always ready to embarrass her in polite society, and her refusal of Wentworth still fresh in everyone’s mind, Anne wonders if she’ll ever find the courage to follow her heart again. And if she does, what can she do to regain the affections of her Captain?”

REVIEW: I’m currently taking a module on Jane Austen and Georgian society at university, so I thought it would be a good time to go back to some of the novels that I couldn’t remember as well. Persuasion was one of the first Austen novels I read and, as a thirteen-year-old girl, I found myself feeling a great affinity with Anne – doesn’t ever girl have some point in her teenage years where she is spurned by a boy and consequently feels invisible? I know I did, and because of this relationship that my younger self developed with Anne, she has always been one of my favourite Austen characters. In returning to the novel whilst being in a much more stable position in my personal life, I found myself feeling much more sympathy for Anne than I had done when I was younger, when I simply saw Anne as an echo of myself. Anne Elliot seems to be the only rational, humane person in a family ruled by pride, stubbornness and snobbery. Her father refuses to face up to their money problems while her sister, Mary, constantly expects Anne to be at her beck and call and frequently embarrasses her with her overbearing nature; a nature that does not sit well in polite society. Anne is constantly forced to make sacrifices for her family; missing out on society gatherings to look after Mary’s sick child, for example, or playing the pianoforte while everyone around her dances and is merry (though this does appear to be something she herself prefers, as she clearly does not relish being the centre of attention). The biggest sacrifice Anne makes, however, is that of her own happiness, and this occurs before the timeline in which the book is set. Pressured by her interfering family and friends, Anne feels compelled to reject a proposal from the man she loves, Captain Wentworth. Consequently, when the book opens, she is twenty-seven and still on the shelf, with little hopes of getting married – until Captain Wentworth returns to Uppercross. He seems to pay little attention to Anne and appears to be instead focusing his attention on Louisa Musgrove, whilst Anne is unwilling drawn into an affection with Mr Elliot, her cousin, who turns out to be not quite as amiable as he seems. Being an Austen novel, both Wentworth and Anne eventually realise that misunderstanding and miscommunication have led to them delaying their reunion and, as they are both still in love, they are finally able to be joined in marriage after eight years of misery and longing on both their parts. I enjoyed this novel just as much the second time around as I did the first time I read it, and also found new messages within that I hadn’t understood or noticed when I read the novel before  – for this reason, I would highly recommend it.