The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Today on my book blog, I’m sharing another one of my 5 star reviews from 2020. I read and reviewed debut novel, The Flatshare back in February 2020 having read a copy on my Kindle. I have subsequently read and reviewed The Switch (see https://mentoringmumof2bookreviews.home.blog/2020/04/07/bookreview-the-switch-by-beth-oleary-publication-date-16-4-2020/ ) and I’m looking forward to reading The Road Trip, being published by Quercus in April 2021.

Synopsis:

Tiffy and Leon share a flat
Tiffy and Leon share a bed
Tiffy and Leon have never met…

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time. 

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

My thoughts:

I bought the ebook in the summer of 2019 and finally read it in February 2020 after seeing many positive reviews on Readers First, Twitter and the Motherload Facebook page. I’m happy to be able to say that I also enjoyed the book, great characters and story, and I didn’t want the story to end.

I enjoyed the way the story moved between following the two main characters Leon and Tiffy – it was a little slow to start with as we got to know the characters and their back stories but quickly became a “I don’t want to put this down” page turner.

Loved the idea of them leaving helpful notes and home cooked meals for each other – sounded much better than some of my experiences of sharing a house as a student. Certain events were definitely laugh out loud moments, especially the shower in the morning.




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The 24-Hour Café by Libby Page

The 24-Hour Café by Libby Page

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Today I’m revisiting one of my first 5 star reads of 2020, back before lockdown and furlough were words used on a daily basis, and when cafes were allowed to open. Currently available in hardback and ebook formats, this will be published in paperback in February 2021 and can be pre-ordered now.

Synopsis:

Welcome to the café that never sleeps. Day and night Stella’s Café opens its doors for the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It is many things to many people but most of all it is a place where life can wait at the door. A place of small kindnesses. A place where anyone can be whoever they want, where everyone is always welcome.

Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They work at Stella’s but they dream of more, of leaving the café behind and making their own way in life.

Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café; a day when Hannah and Mona’s friendship will be tested, when the community will come together and when lives will be changed…

My thoughts:


After reading and enjoying The Lido, I was thrilled to be given a digital review copy of The 24-Hour Cafe by Orion and NetGalley in return for an honest review.

It did take me some time to get into the story of Hannah and Mona’s friendship, however once I got going, I didn’t want to stop reading – thank goodness it was the weekend.

I loved how Libby Page brought the characters to life – I felt as if I was in the cafe myself being busy people watching. The development of the story of the friendship of Hannah and Mona was the main part of the story, but with so many other stories interwoven, the depressed new mum, the homeless student, the newly weds, the other cafe staff.

This is not Lido 2 (some other reviewers seemed disappointed) but is another beautifully written book by Libby Page which explores friendships.

The author:

Libby Page previously worked in marketing, moonlighting as a writer. She graduated from The London College of Fashion with a BA in Fashion Journalism before going on to work as a journalist at the Guardian. THE LIDO is her first novel. It was pre-empted within 24 hours of submission for six figures in the UK, pre-empted for six figures in the US, and will be published in 2018 by Orion UK and Simon & Schuster US, followed by eleven other territories around the world. 

Libby has been a leading campaigner for fairer internships and has spoken on TV and in parliament in support of fair pay for interns. Libby has been writing from an early age and when she was 16 she wrote an illustrated book called Love Pink to raise money for Breast Cancer Care.

After writing, her second passion is outdoor swimming. Libby lives in London where she enjoys finding new swimming spots and pockets of community within the city. 



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The Boy Between by Amanda Prowse and Josiah Hartley @mrsamandaprowse #JosiahHartley @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours

Thank you to Kelly at Love Book Tours for inviting me to join the blog tour for this thought provoking book and for the digital review copy. I have read and enjoyed many of Amanda’s fiction books over the past few years, but this is the book that will stay with me for many years.

Synopsis:

Josiah was nineteen with the world at his feet when things changed. Without warning, the new university student’s mental health deteriorated to the point that he planned his own death. His mother, bestselling author Amanda Prowse, found herself grappling for ways to help him, with no clear sense of where that could be found. This is the book they wish had been there for them during those dark times.

Josiah’s situation is not unusual: the statistics on student mental health are terrifying. And he was not the only one suffering; his family was also hijacked by his illness, watching him struggle and fearing the day he might succeed in taking his life.

In this book, Josiah and Amanda hope to give a voice to those who suffer, and to show them that help can be found. It is Josiah’s raw, at times bleak, sometimes humorous, but always honest account of what it is like to live with depression. It is Amanda’s heart-rending account of her pain at watching him suffer, speaking from the heart about a mother’s love for her child.

For anyone with depression and anyone who loves someone with depression, Amanda and Josiah have a clear message—you are not alone, and there is hope.

My thoughts:

I’ve had the review copy sat on my Kindle for a few weeks, ready to read and review but I decided to wait until I had listened to Josh and Amanda being interviewed for a recent Reading Agency event when they were interviewed by Natasha Devon from http://www.natashadevon.com. Having heard Josh and Amanda read from their book and talk about it, I settled down to read. This was a book I didn’t want to put down and this resulted in a late night of reading.

As readers of my book review blog know, I have many books this year due to having been furloughed. However this is one of the most important books of the year, and should be read by parents, teachers and anyone working with young people. During our recent work safeguarding training, we were told that one in six young people in the UK are now said to be living with a mental health issue, exacerbated by the current global pandemic.

Thank you to Josh for being so open and articulate about what happened, how his world changed and became grey. As Josh points out, there wasn’t one major incident that caused his depression, it was a combination of events and life experiences. Thank you to Amanda for also being honest about what she and the rest of the family did or didn’t do during this time. When we have children, we tend to learn as we go, with help from family and friends and in the age of filtered Instagram families, it can be difficult to remember that few people (if any) are actually experiencing perfection. Hopefully this book will help many other families who find themselves in a similar situation.

I work with young people and this book has given me more clues about what to look out for, than any of the ‘educational’ publications I’ve read, because it is written by someone who has depression, rather than someone who works with people with depression. I lost my own brother to depression five years ago when he turned 40. I have struggled to understand why he didn’t reach out but having read Josh’s story, I now realise that he was trapped in his own grey world.

This is an emotional, well written read about a topic which many people find it difficult to talk about. As I said above, this is a book that parents and teachers should read. I will be recommending this to family and friends. Most definitely a five star read.

Author Bio:

Josiah (Josh) Hartley lives in an isolated farmhouse in the West Country, but close enough to Bristol to enjoy its music scene. He is an animal lover and servant to two French Bulldogs. Equally happy at a music festival or watching rugby with his mates, he likes the outdoor life and with Devon only a short drive away often heads to the sea to surf and sit on the beach watching the sun go down. After a stint at the University of Southampton and another at the University of Bristol and one unsuccessful suicide attempt, Josh decided to write about his descent into mental illness and the depression that has held him in its grip for the past few years. The Boy Between carries the overriding message that things can and often do get better. It’s a book of reflection, raw, honest and full of hope: the proof being that Josh is still here and now excited about what comes next. He is ready to catch any opportunities that life throws his way, quite a thing for someone who only three years ago was living in a world gone grey, ready to disappear from the face of the earth…

Amanda Prowse likens her own life story to those she writes about in her books. After self-publishing her debut novel, Poppy Day, in 2011, she has gone on to author twenty-five novels and six novellas. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages and she regularly tops bestseller charts all over the world. Remaining true to her ethos, Amanda writes stories of ordinary women and their families who find their strength, courage and love tested in ways they never imagined. The most prolific female contemporary fiction writer in the UK, with a legion of loyal readers, she goes from strength to strength. Being crowned ‘queen of domestic drama’ by the Daily Mail was one of her finest moments. Amanda is a regular contributor on TV and radio but her first love is, and will always be, writing. This is her first work of non-fiction.

You can find her online at www.amandaprowse.com, on Twitter or Instagram @MrsAmandaProwse, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/amandaprowsenogreaterlove.

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright @jaimejowright @bethany_house @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours

I’m pleased to be sharing my review today as part of the blog tour organised by Love Book Tours. Thank you to the publisher for a digital proof copy, my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

1928

The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the “Watchman,” she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa’s search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

Present Day

The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk’s shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot’s history, she’s also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

My thoughts:

This is an interesting time slip story, set in the USA, full of mystery, murder and ghosts. Pippa in 1928 has been adopted by the circus owners, the Ripley family, but doesn’t feel as if she belongs. Chandler, in the present day, is a single mum, trying to prove to her family that she can carry on working as before despite her current health issues.

The book covers a wide range of topics, from women demanding more independence, to the mistreatment of zoo animals to the impact stress has on someone with an auto-immune disorder. These are all wrapped up in a serial killer murder mystery story spanning a century and linked to the Bonaventure Circus. Pippa and Chandler both have to decide who they can trust, and it may be someone they trust the most who turns out to not be worthy of that trust.

I enjoyed the story (despite struggling with the formatting of the proof copy – to be honest, if I hadn’t enjoyed the story so much the I would probably not have persevered) and look forward to reading more by Jaime Jo Wright in the future.

Author Bio

Jaime Jo Wright is the author of five novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo, her husband Cap’n Hook, and their littles, Peter Pan, and CoCo. To learn more, visit www.jaimewrightbooks.com

Buy Link 

https://amzn.to/3bzX8UU

The Lockdown Diary of Tom Cooper by Spencer Brown

Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join the blog tour and to Marotte Books for a digital copy of the book. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the free copy.

One man vs the coronavirus

2020 was supposed to be a great year. Unfortunately, Tom Cooper, like the rest of the world, has found himself stuck in the middle of a pandemic. He’s going to be spending the next few months trapped inside a small flat with sole responsibility for his two single- digit children. Separated from his girlfriend (and any possibility of help with childcare), Tom is plunged into a world of home schooling, awkward Zoom calls, supermarket feuds, al fresco workout sessions, cash- strapped tooth fairies, aging parents who won’t stay home and competitive clapping for the NHS. Not to mention the problem of trying to fulfill his girlfriend’s request for an erotic selfie of his rapidly deteriorating body…

Join Tom as he navigates the lockdown in the stand-alone sequel to last year’s hilarious The Rebuilding of Tom Cooper. Laugh-out-loud with real heart. Lockdown has never been so entertaining.

PRAISE FOR THE REBUILDING OF TOM COOPER

‘A gloriously self-aware, satirical romp through the terrors of relationships, family life and survival. Philip Roth meets Cold Feet!’ Helen Lederer (Absolutely Fabulous, Losing It (P.G.Wodehouse Award nominee))

‘An aspirational figure for the men of today’ Omid Djalili (Live at the Apollo, The Infidel) ‘Hilarious and heart-warming’ Andi Osho (Live at the Apollo, Curfew)

My thoughts:

If someone had told me back in March or April 2020 that I would enjoy reading a book about being in the UK lockdown part 1, I would probably have laughed at them (from a socially distanced position, of course). However, I have now read a lockdown diary and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As you may have noticed from the synopsis above, this is the second book about Tom Cooper. However this is the first one I have read, and I was able to enjoy it without having read book one. At the start of the book, the UK is getting ready to enter lockdown part 1 (I read this at the start of lockdown part 2). Tom is a single dad of two primary school children, who suddenly finds himself working from home whilst home schooling his children.

The diary looks at how Tom stays in touch with his girlfriend Amanda via zoom (loved the description of the first one), copes with queuing to buy essentials at the supermarket with the children whilst hunting daily for an online grocery slot, takes part in the clap for NHS carers and copes with a shortage of toilet rolls and competent work colleagues.

The book is full of laugh out loud moments, especially when Tom has epic failures with technology, the tooth fairy and a rat, but is also thought provoking in places, as the reality of someone catching Covid-19 is discussed. I enjoyed the humour and the story, and I’m happy to recommend this book.

Author Bio:

Spencer Brown began performing comedy with the Cambridge Footlights alongside John Oliver (HBO’s This Week Tonight) and Matthew Holness (Garth Merenghis Darkplace), before becoming an internationally acclaimed stand up. He has performed everywhere from London’s The Comedy Store to Mumbai and the USA, TV credits including Nathan Barley (Channel 4), Edinburgh Comedy (BBC 2), Last Comic Standing (NBC), his own special on Swedish televisionAs a TV presenter, he fronted ITV’s Lip Service alongside Holly Willoughby and Five’s The Sexy Ads Show. He is also the writer-director of the multi-award-winning film The Boy with a Camera for a Face. The Lockdown Diary of Tom Cooper is his second novel.

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Milly Johnson

Thank you to Team Books and the City for a copy of this book. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

It’s nearly Christmas and it’s snowing, hard. Deep in the Yorkshire Moors nestles a tiny hamlet, with a pub at its heart. As the snow falls, the inn will become an unexpected haven for six people forced to seek shelter there…

Mary has been trying to get her boss Jack to notice her for four years, but he can only see the efficient PA she is at work. Will being holed up with him finally give her the chance she has been waiting for?

Bridge and Luke were meeting for five minutes to set their divorce in motion. But will getting trapped with each other reignite too many fond memories – and love?

Charlie and Robin were on their way to a luxury hotel in Scotland for a very special Christmas. But will the inn give them everything they were hoping to find – and much more besides?

A story of knowing when to hold on and when to let go, of pushing limits and acceptance, of friendship, love, laughter, mince pies and the magic of Christmas. 

Gorgeous, warm and full of heartfelt emotion, I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day is the perfect read this winter!

My thoughts:

As readers of my book blog may be aware, I was born and bred in Yorkshire but currently live in Wiltshire. I first discovered Milly’s books a few years ago and have been reading them ever since, both because I love the stories and because they remind me of home. My last review for One True North can be read at https://mentoringmumof2bookreviews.home.blog/2020/06/19/my-one-true-north-by-milly-johnson/

So when I received a copy of Milly’s latest book during UK Lockdown number 2, I curled up on the sofa with our adopted dogs, a blanket, a hot chocolate and headed to virtual Yorkshire.

This book has more main male characters than I remember in other books by Milly, all of whom came to life along with Bridge and Mary. I loved how all six of the main characters developed and evolved as the enforced Christmas snow in, birthday celebrations and mulled drinks allowed them to relax and enjoy each others company. As a woman of a certain age (in her 40’s), so many of the references to food, music, board games were relevant to my childhood and reminded me of childhood family Christmas school holidays.

I would struggle to pick a favourite character from the Figgy Hollow Six, all of them were at a crossroads in their lives, and spending a few days together helped them make some decisions. As is usually the case with Milly’s books, I giggled in various places but also had moist eyes – Milly provides a book full of emotion and warmth, magic and mystery.

This is a no spoiler review, so I’m not going to tell you any more about the story, just that you need to buy it and I hope you will enjoy reading it too. When I looked on Amazon today, there are 262 reviews already with an average rating on 4.8/5, so I’m not the only person giving this a five star rating. There are also plenty of lovely book shops selling it, you don’t have to go to Amazon. I’m off to order some cherry grenades, mince pies and mulled wine. Thanks Milly for another fabulous book and a reminder of Yorkshire.

Author Bio: (from Amazon.co.uk)

Milly Johnson was born, raised and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. She is the author of 17 published novels, 4 short story ebooks, a book of poetry and a Quick Reads Novella (‘The Little Dreams of Lara Cliffe’) and was an erstwhile leading copywriter for the greetings card industry. She is also a poem and joke-writer, a newspaper columnist and a seasoned after dinner speaker.

She won the RoNA for Best Romantic Comedy Novel of 2014 and 2016, the Yorkshire Society award for Arts and Culture 2015 and the Romantic Novelist Association Outstanding Achievement award in 2020. See her popular acceptance speech here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxzeFTvHXDo&fbclid=IwAR27aZML4er_dZLgD2e-URQdBoOK3L9hM8mauFpn3aFvAws7y3VVtXsYTvI

She writes about love, life, friendships and the importance of community spirit. Her books champion women, their strength and resilience and celebrate her beloved Yorkshire.

Her latest book – My One True North tackles the subject of moving on after grief with a light and joyous touch. The Daily Trumpet makes a large appearance and previous novels ‘The Teashop on the Corner’ and ‘Here Come the Girls’ are referenced.

Milly’s website is http://www.millyjohnson.co.uk. She is on Twitter as @millyjohnson, Instagram as @themillyjohnson and has a Facebook page @MillyJohnsonAuthor. She also has a monthly newsletter http://www.millyjohnson.co.uk/newsletter with exclusive, news, offers and competitions.

Brain Tools for Teens by Malin Gutestam

Thank you to Love Reading for the opportunity to read and review Brain Tools for Teens. I am the mother of two teenagers and I also work for a social mobility charity working to encourage students to aim high for their futures, so I was keen to read this. This was published by Hjärnskap last month.

Synopsis:

Brain Tools for Teens – a Practical Actionable Guide to Improve Your Mental Wellbeing and Learning.

Have you ever thought about …?

  • Why nothing seems to stick in your memory when you study?
  • Why you feel unfocused and stressed?
  • Why it is hard to balance school work and spare time?

Brain Tools for Teens is written in a warm and engaging manner, speaking directly to teenagers, using a combination of personal stories, evidence to aid understanding of the issues, and includes more than 160 practical and realistic tips for implementation of strategies.

You may find brain Tools for Teens helpful if you are;

  • a teen in need of tools to feel more in control of your health and learning
  • a parent looking for new tools to support teens in challenging times
  • an educator looking for a resource to promote teen mental wellbeing and reduce stress
  • someone working with teens in search of new tools to help teens navigate this changing world

 Here is exactly what you will get in Brain Tools for Teens;

  1. The Teenage Brain:  How your brain works and how to take care of it.
  2. Focus:   Attention, multitasking and how to focus.
  3. Sleep:   Why sleep is a vital tool for learning and mental health.
  4. Physical Activity:   The benefits of movement for performance and creativity.
  5. Down Time:   Different breaks and how breaks can increase performance.
  6. Connection:  How positive connection promotes health and learning.
  7. Play:   How play creates inner motivation and is beneficial to learning.
  8. Time-in:   Simple and accessible tools to manage stress and feel calm.
  9. The Learning Brain:   How learning works and how to boost your learning.
  10. Stress:   What stress is and how some reactions to stress are beneficial.
  11. Where do you go from here?   A simple strategy to keep checking in.
  12. To Parents and guardians:   How we support and encourage teens.

Brain Tools for Teens is colorful, has a structured layout, lots of constructive illustrations and simple summaries. It also contains inspiring stories of teens and young adults who have created new well-functioning habits in their lives. You can choose to read just the chapter that feels most pertinent to you or read the book cover to cover. It is a practical actionable guide you can come back to when you need to.

Create and add to your own toolbox for mental wellbeing and learning. Buy the book and start reading today!

My thoughts:

I have only seen a PDF copy but I was very impressed by the content, layout and ideas. The book is written for teenagers, to explain how important it is that they mix up their studies with exercise, socialising, sleep, etc. The book explains all the science behind the suggestions and features reports from students about how they discovered they needed to make changes. Lots of common sense ideas, especially about the impact of mobile phones on sleep and studying.

There is a section at the end with advice for parents and teachers. This appears to be a useful book for all ages.

Author Bio:

Malin Gutestam is passionate about providing science-based tools that optimize brain health and learning for teens and young adults. Her interest in the brain and learning has also led her to become speaker, coach and author. 

A secondary school teacher in Sweden for the past 20 years, she has been teaching Physical Education, Entrepreneurship, Ways of Working and Learning, Pedagogical Leadership and Health Pedagogics to16-19-year-olds. Malin´s curiosity led her to become a tutor in PBL (Problem Based Learning). She has also co-founded a health project with focus on physical activity and learning for teens, developed a course for learning to learn strategies as well as the course Young Brains which was run as a pilot study. Malin has run many workshops for teachers on the connection of physical activity and learning and co-created learning materials for brain breaks and values.

Malin loves to give talks and run workshops about how brain science can be applied to create better conditions for learning, better brain health and more creative processes and share them with high school students, college students, parents, teachers or business professionals.

In 2016, Malin Gutestam was awarded The Helge Prize, a Swedish scholarship for teachers, which led to the publication of the Swedish version of Brain Tools for Teens. 

She holds an MA from Örebro University and a postgraduate certificate in Neuroscience in Leadership from Middlesex University (focusing on the next generation of leaders) as well as a Brain Based Coaching Certificate from the Neuroleadership Institute.

Malin’s greater mission is to contribute to an education where students can learn, grow, thrive and pursue their passions. She believes that now more than ever do we need the creativity, compassion, skills and knowledge of today´s teens to find new ways of solving the problems of today.

Visit Malin’s website https://www.braintoolsforteens.com/ for free learning resources. Malin also shares research, tips and ideas about brain health and learning for teens and young adults on Instagram @braintoolsforteens. 

Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Sitter by Laura Marchant

Today I’m pleased to be sharing an extract from Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Sitter as part of the blog blitz organised by Rachel’s Random Resources.

Synopsis:

Hilarious and heart warming true stories of a Pet Sitter.

​Laura takes us on her journey describing the immense joy that the animals have brought into her life. But it’s not all fun and games. With sometimes as many as ten dogs around her home, things can get a tad hectic. Not to forget the every day challenges faced in keeping the pets happy and safe when out walking. Luckily she is not alone in her quest; her unusually dominant Golden Retriever ‘Brece’ is always by her side. Brece earns her keep by convincingly playing the part of the alpha female, ensuring harmony amongst the pack.

​At times, the responsibility that Laura faces becomes overwhelming. She may think she has everything covered but that hand of fate could quite easily swoop down, creating havoc for her and the dogs. Laura has endured many close calls and teetered on the precipice of disaster may a time. The longer she continues with her pet sitting enterprise, the more likely hood that total disaster will actually strike. Is she tempting fate?

​Laura Marchant is the Bridget Jones of the pet sitting world!

Purchase Links 

Author Bio:

Laura Marchant was born in 1959 in the seaside resort of Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, England. Both her parents were born in the same town, so not exactly a family of intrepid travellers! As a child Laura and her siblings were fortunate enough to own shares in the families pets. Unbeknown to Laura at the time, her love for the animals formed the blueprint for a large part of her life.

In 2011 she finally found her vocation, and in the comfort of her own home, set up a pet boarding business. For the next 7 years she shared her abode with a pack of dogs. A lot of this time was spent watching over the animals and observing their behaviour, which in turn inspired her to write her first novel ‘Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Sitter’.

Social Media Links

https://www.facebook.com/laura.marchant60/?modal=admin_todo_tour

https://twitter.com/lauramarchant16

Extract:

As part of my pet sitting business I offered a house sitting service. A lady called Marion took on the actual role of the house sitter.

I deeply regret the first house sitting job that I arranged for Marion and the position that I put her in. It was our very first assignment job back in 2011 and I was inexperienced in my new role. But in my defence, the customer had grossly misled me as to the extent of the rat infestation in her home!  

At the consultation with the customer Elizabeth, she warned me that she had a couple of rats knocking about in the back garden. She owned six dogs, three rabbits and of course the rats, which she casually mentioned in passing. The house backed onto a brook and rather unwisely she kept the rabbit hutch in the back garden closely situated to the water. The rats from the brook were naturally attracted to the rabbit grain. It occurred to me that the vermin situation was not aided by the fact that the hutch was at ground level and not elevated in any way shape or form. Elizabeth understood that the rats were attracted by the rabbit food yet did nothing to rectify the situation. I found it strange that she ignored the health risk to herself and dogs, but kept my thoughts in my head. Elizabeth tried to assure me that the rats only came out at night to scavenge any grain that may have fallen out of the hutch, ‘You wouldn’t even know they were there!’

I provisionally booked Marion to house sit for Elizabeth. The actual booking would only be confirmed if Marion agreed to stay in a house with a rat issue and that was a highly unlikely scenario, or so I thought. After I left the house, I immediately made the call to Marion and put the revolting proposal to her; candidly informing her about the vermin but reiterating Elizabeth’s comments;

“You won’t even know they are there.”

It was a certainty that Marion would decline the unattractive invitation, most people wouldn’t have touched the job with a barge pole. Marion proved me wrong. I was completely startled when without hesitation she accepted the position. Being the tough old bird that she is, she resiliently replied; “Well, what I can’t see, can’t hurt me.”

So, with that we took Elizabeth at her word and agreed to house-sit for her. Several weeks after the job I learned from Marion that Elizabeth’s prediction was completely incorrect. When Marion was staying at the house she knew full well that the rats were there. The vermin, were bold as brass coming out in broad daylight, scavenging for scraps, and in their numbers, half a dozen at a time. Marion didn’t even get any respite at night, when darkness fell the rats invaded the kitchen. As she lay in bed, she could hear them scratching and scuttling about. Entering the kitchen each morning, sleep deprived, she was greeted by traces of rat urine on the worktops! Although clearly not comfortable with the situation Marion barely complained; such a tough old bird.

Fortune Favours The Dead by Stephen Spotswood #publicationday #debutnovel2020

Thank you to Caitlyn Raynor at Wildfire Books (Headline) for this distinctive proof copy of debut novel Fortune Favours the Dead. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift. Fortune Favours the Dead is published today in the UK.

Synopsis:

Introducing Pentecost and Parker, two unconventional female detectives who couldn’t care less about playing by the rules, in their cases and in their lives. 

It’s 1942 and Willowjean “Will” Parker is a scrappy circus runaway whose knife-throwing skills have just saved the life of New York’s best, and most unorthodox, private investigator, Lillian Pentecost. When the dapper detective summons Will a few days later, she doesn’t expect to be offered a life-changing proposition: Lillian’s multiple sclerosis means she can’t keep up with her old case load alone, so she wants to hire Will to be her right-hand woman. In return, Will will receive a salary, room and board, and training in Lillian’s very particular art of investigation.

Three years later, Will and Lillian are on the Collins case: Abigail Collins was found bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball following a big, boozy Halloween party at her home–her body slumped in the same chair where her steel magnate husband shot himself the year before. With rumors flying that Abigail was bumped off by the vengeful spirit of her husband (who else could have gotten inside the locked room?), the family has tasked the detectives with finding answers where the police have failed. But that’s easier said than done in a case that involves messages from the dead, a seductive spiritualist, and Becca Collins — the beautiful daughter of the deceased, who Will quickly starts falling for. When Will and Becca’s relationship dances beyond the professional, Will finds herself in dangerous territory, and discovers she may have become the murderer’s next target.

A wildly charming and fast-paced mystery written with all the panache of 1940s New York, Fortune Favors the Dead is a fresh homage to Holmes and Watson reads like the best of Dashiell Hammett and introduces an audacious detective duo for the ages.

My thoughts:

2020 may be a year of a global pandemic but it is also a year of discovering stunning debut novels, and this is definitely one of my favourites. Set in 1940’s New York, Stephen Spotswood has created two great detectives, young Will Parker and the more experienced Lillian Pentecost.

The opening chapters set the pace of the book. The first meeting of Pentecost and Parker was one that changed the life of Parker (and saved the life of Pentecost). The story is told by Parker, who jumps ahead in time from the first meeting, to tell us about their investigations into the deaths of the Collins family.

How could Abigail Collins have been murdered in a locked room, a room that only locked from the inside? And the same room as the one where her husband was found dead, apparently from self inflicted injuries a year earlier.

I loved the setting of the book in post war New York, with a great mixture of characters for all walks of life. So many suspects, from the twin children to their godfather, to the woman who claimed to be able to talk to the dead, to the managers of the Collins business empire who didn’t want to lose a lucrative Government contract.

I raced through this book, desperate to find out what happened next. This book is one of the fastest paced mystery books I’ve ever read, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing (and this reader didn’t guess correctly!)

I’m thrilled to see that a series of books are planned. This new detective duo of Pentecost and Parker are just what the book doctor ordered.

Author Bio:

Stephen Spotswood is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and educator. As a journalist, he has spent much of the last two decades writing about the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the struggles of wounded veterans. His dramatic work has been produced nationwide and includes Girl In The Red Corner (winner of the 2017 Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play), In The Forest She Grew Fangs, Doublewide, and more. His debut novel, Fortune Favors The Dead, will be released by Doubleday in October 2020. He makes his home in Washington, D.C., with his wife, young-adult author Jessica Spotswood.

The Last Days of Ellis Island by Gaëlle Josse (Translated by Natasha Lehrer)

Thank you to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation to join the blog tour for this book. Thank you to World Editions for a copy of the book, my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

Winner of the European Union Prize for Literature

New York, November 3, 1954. In a few days, the immigration inspection station on Ellis Island will close its doors forever. John Mitchell, an officer of the Bureau of Immigration, is the guardian and last resident of the island. As Mitchell looks back over forty-five years as gatekeeper to America and its promise of a better life, he recalls his brief marriage to beloved wife Liz, and is haunted by memories of a transgression involving Nella, an immigrant from Sardinia. Told in a series of poignant diary entries, this is a story of responsibility, love, fidelity, and remorse.

My thoughts:

This is a book of highs and lows, both for Ellis Island and for John Mitchell, who is packing up his personal possessions and leaving the island for the last time. This books blends fiction and nonfiction seamlessly.

In many books, I’ve read about how ships full of immigrants would arrive at Ellis Island, hoping to be allowed to proceed into America to make new, brighter lives and to escape poverty, war and persecution back in Europe.

This book brings this to life from the other side of the story, how the United States processed the applications. The section of the book detailing how the immigrants are first observed, then sorted and questioned was written in a way that really brought the images to life. Alongside the general memories of Ellis Island, John Mitchell tells how he fell in love with his wife and why he feels guilty about how he dealt with Nella and her brother, who were fleeing Sardinia to seek safety.

This is a relatively short book for a historical fiction novel with over 45 years of events crammed into the story, as New York and the rest of the world undergo major changes. Some parts are lovely, such as when John falls in love with Liz, but there are many more sad moments than happy memories. I enjoyed reading this book and would love to visit Ellis Island one day, as my teenage boy did last year with his sixth form. A thought provoking story about a gateway to new beginnings.

Author Bio:

Gaëlle Josse holds degrees in law, journalism, and clinical psychology. Formerly a poet, she published her first novel, Les Heures silencieuses (‘The Quiet Hours’), in 2011. Josse went on to win several awards, including the Alain Fournier Award in 2013 for Nos vies désaccordées (‘Our Out-Of-Tune Lives’). After spending a few years in New Caledonia, she returned to Paris, where she now works and lives. Josse received the European Union Prize for Literature for The Last Days of Ellis Island, along with the Grand Livre du Mois Literary Prize.

Natasha Lehrer won a Rockower Award for Journalism in 2016, and in 2017 was awarded the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize for her translation of Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger.

“Combining real and fictional events, Gaëlle Josse has written a text as visceral as it is melancholy and vibrant.” ―Livres Hebdo