Chicklit Club
 

EMMA HANNIGAN

 

The Heart of Winter (2014)

 

Looking to save their ancestral home, the Craig family - mother Holly, father Paddy, and siblings Lainey, Joey and Pippa - have had to take drastic action and transform Huntersbrook from family pile into a country retreat and it’s all hands on deck as the first bookings come in. Not least because Huntersbrook’s inaugural event will be the thirtieth birthday party of Missy Hassett, Pippa’s colleague and the notoriously demanding daughter of Pippa’s boss. But Pippa’s about to learn just how demanding Missy can be when she becomes inveigled in a toxic friendship. For Joey, time at Huntersbrook with girlfriend Skye is jeopardised by a new promotion at work but he’s determined to get ahead. And for Lainey, a second pregnancy looks like it’s going to give her the second child she longs for, but complications hit. Whilst The Heart of Winter is fairly easy to pick up and dive straight into, it does return to the family and setting of Hannigan’s previous novel Driving Home for Christmas and I think it may be worth reading that first if only to fill in the background. Although there’s a winter feel to the novel, it’s not overly explicit and if you’re after a specifically Christmassy read, the festive period is limited to the last quarter of the book. All of the siblings have very obvious faults and whilst this makes them human, it doesn’t make any of them especially likeable. But the main problem for me was the about-turns that take place in the characters’ lives that felt too unrealistic and sudden. Indeed, Joey and Pippa spend the first half of the novel struggling with the excessive demands of work and friendship respectively, yet in the second half of the novel these simply disappear and seem to be resolved without any illustration. There are also a couple of later chapters from ancillary characters that whilst fitting with the plot did feel a bit out of keeping with the narrative and a confession from family friend Sadie in the epilogue reads as something of a mood killer. Nonetheless, the spirit of family and togetherness especially at the end is palpable and the setting of Huntersbrook really comes alive in the imagination, with a very real sense of magic and awe. As the book closes, it seems that there is lots more to come but it’s the peripheral characters (Jodi, Jules and Danny) as much as the main ones that offer the appeal going forward. (JC)


 

The Summer Guest (2014)

 

Lexi and Sam seem to have everything they want from life - great jobs, a great house that they've poured their soul into and each other. But as life goes on all their friends seem to be having babies and the expectation level for them to take the next step rises, making them wonder if their original decision not to have children was right to begin with. Kathleen is visiting Ireland with a list of three things that she hopes to accomplish - including visiting Lexi and Sam's home where she spent her early childhood years. Together the two women form a friendship that comes at a time when they both need it most. This book was very emotional for me and by midway through to the end I had to take frequent breaks. It was very hard to read Lexi's take on everyone's expectations for her and Sam, and how easy it was for our judgment to intervene in the lives of others. The author introduces a perspective I had never considered and although I do have friends who choose not to have children I never gave much thought into how difficult it must be to know how they may be perceived by society. Totally eye-opening and a must-read. (KARM)


 

Perfect Wives (2013)

 

World-famous actress Jodi Ludlum has decided to go back to her roots and moves into a small cottage in the Irish town of Bakers Valley to raise her young son, Saul. Even though this means they are far away from the always-present paparazzi, they are also far from Jodi's loving husband Darius who is also a famous actor. In the same village, Francine Hennessy is trying to live up to her reputation as the perfect wife, a great mother to her four children, and a successful businesswoman, with even time to spare to bake the most delicious treats. However, both Jodi and Francine's lives are not as perfect as they might seem on the outside and slowly things are getting out of control. It won't take long before their secrets come out, and unexpectedly the two women find each other, to help them through the difficult times ahead. Emma Hannigan is an amazing storyteller and I was swept up by the storyline and its characters from the first chapter. The novel focuses on two female protagonists who are completely different but are dealing with the same problem: trying to uphold an image as a perfect woman. I instantly liked Jodi while it took me a bit longer to warm to Francine, who comes across as a bit shallow at the start, but this quickly changed as the reader got to know more about her life and feelings. The book deals with a really relevant issue, namely how women are expected to be perfect wives and mothers and how they try to uphold this image in the public eye. The book was well-paced, the chapters were not too short and not too long, just right. Overall, Perfect Wives is a heart-warming, delightful read and I already can't wait to pick up Emma's next release. (JoH)


 

Driving Home for Christmas (2012)

 

The Craig family have always enjoyed family Christmases at Huntersbrook House in Co. Wicklow. The three adult children, Pippa, Joey and Lainey, look forward to spending every Christmas there with their parents. However, their idyllic family time is threatened this year by relationship problems and financial woes. Unbeknown to them their parents are also facing financial difficulties which could result in them losing their beloved family home. Driving Home for Christmas shows how difficulties can be overcome by the family working together as a team. This was a great feel-good book which I just couldn't put down! Emma Hannigan's books just get better and better. (BS)


 

Keeping Mum (2012)

 

This book tells the story of three sets of mothers and daughters. Ava and her daughter Daisy have always shared the same values but Daisy realises that she wants to make big changes in her life much to her mother's dismay. Mia and her daughter Felicity have always had a great relationship, but when Felicity leaves home to go to university and meets an older man, their relationship is tested. Greta and her daughter Tally are total poles apart and have practically no relationship at all. The mothers are faced with challenges as their daughters begin to build their own lives and make decisions that their mothers don't always approve of. All six women meet by chance on a holiday to Spain, which provides them with the opportunity to salvage their relationships. This book is one of the best books I have read all year. It has all the ingredients of a perfect chick lit book. I laughed and I cried and couldn't wait to find out what happened next. (BS)


 

The Pink Ladies Club (2011)

 

This tells the story of three women who all have the membership requirement for the club nobody wants to join - cancer. Zoe is a tender 22, Tanya is 35 and Esme is 69, but despite the generation gap and how little else they have in common, the women find themselves being drawn into each others' lives as they battle with their health problems. With the help of their counsellor Sian, their club meetings become one of the few things that help them make sense of how their lives have changed immeasurably. Not all three women may last the course but the experience of facing and fighting this illness is life-changing - and even life-enhancing. With likeable characters and three very different perspectives on how to deal with a life-shattering illness, The Pink Ladies Club flows easily - until an unexpected twist halfway through the book shakes up the course of the rest of the story. The only drawback to this highly effective twist was that the pacing of the rest of the book seemed slightly off-kilter thereafter, but the inherent humour in the author's narrative voice coupled with the strength of characterisation made the book a winner for me. Esme, in particular, is a brilliant and memorable character with inspirational positivity - and fantastic misnomers. (SBB)


 

Miss Conceived (2010)

 

This tells the tale of three very different women on the rocky road to childbirth. Angie has just turned 40, is still single and wants a baby - but how is she supposed to have one without a partner? By going to drastic lengths to ensure she doesn't end up childless and alone, that's how. Serena is the personification of glamour and sophistication, with her perfect looks and her perfect life. Married to a dynamic businessman, all she needs is a baby to make her life complete. But when she finds herself struggling to conceive, a secret she's been hiding from everyone - even herself - comes to light and threatens to destroy her utopian world. Ruby is 16 and has her entire future ahead of her - but she hadn't envisaged falling pregnant and having a baby before her next birthday. Her shocked parents, who have put so much into Ruby's education and her privileged lifestyle, are determined that her pregnancy won't destroy the rest of her life. Determined to keep the impending birth a secret from their circle of "it" people, they conjure up a plan to save face. But has anyone asked Ruby what she wants? I bought this book because I enjoyed the author's style of writing in her previous book, Designer Genes, even though the cover of this book didn't appeal to me at all. A lot of recent women's fiction seems to have dealt with the issues of getting pregnant, being pregnant and life post-pregnancy, and I was initially concerned that there may be nothing new in this book - but I needn't have worried. Each of the three main characters won me over and drew me into their own unique tales. Serena may originally come across as a stereotypical trophy wife, but I felt we got to know her as a person throughout the book. It can be hard to make the reader like a character who comes across as a snob but Serena was more three-dimensional than your typical rich character who, from an outside perspective, seems to have a perfect life. You can't help but feel for Ruby and find yourself rooting for everything to work out for her, and the story of her and the father of the baby really pulled me in. As for Angie, she's the type of woman you can see yourself being friends with, and her predicament is one that many women can identify with. I actually enjoyed this book more than the author's first, which I find isn't always the case and is a sign of a really promising writer. I will definitely be buying Hannigan's next book. (SBB)

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