The Summer We Ran Away by Jenny Oliver

I’m pleased to share my review for the latest book by Jenny Oliver today. Thank you to HQ Books for the gift of a digital copy via NetGalley – my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

Julia’s perfect life is in crisis. 

It was meant to be the party of the summer…

In Cedar Road, everyone is preparing for Lexi’s ‘White Hot’ summer party. For one night, parking squabbles and petitions are put aside as neighbours sip Prosecco under the fairy lights and gather by the hot tub to marvel at Lexi’s effortlessly glamorous life with Hot Hamish.

For Julia, it’s a chance to coax husband Charlie out of his potting shed and into a shirt so they can have a welcome break from the hellish house renovation they’ve been wrestling with. And it’s a chance for Julia to pretend – just for a night – that her life is as perfect as Lexi’s.

But when, during the party, one of Julia’s WhatsApp messages falls into the wrong hands and reveals her most intimate thoughts, things reach boiling point…
    
And when all the neighbours know exactly what you’re thinking, there’s only one thing to do.

Run away.

It’s going to be a summer Julia will never forget…

My thoughts:


As we are currently in the middle of the Covid 19 pandemic, this book is a timely reminder of the dangers of being in WhatsApp groups (other social media channels are available). Julia broke the number one rule – never share your screen passcode, especially not when you’ve been sharing adult fantasies about the husband of your neighbour with a friend.

The opening chapters of this book are very funny, we know from the blurb roughly what is going to happen but the writing of this exceeded my expectations. I found myself cringing on behalf of Julia.

The rest of the book involves Amber, another neighbour of Julia. I enjoyed how the friendship developed between Amber and Julia, and how they both worked through their life challenges.

This was a fun summer read with some soul searching for Julia, Amber and Charlie. I enjoyed reading the book over a sunny weekend. There are elements of Bridget Jones, Mama Mia, and Thelma and Louise in this feel good read. This is the first book I’ve read by Jenny Oliver and I will now look to read her previous books.


Jenny Oliver:

Jenny Oliver is a bestselling author of contemporary fiction. Twice nominated for the RNA Best Contemporary Novel award, Jenny’s books explore the ups and downs of relationships and an unwavering belief in happy ever after. In the past she has had jobs ranging from an elf in the Disney store, a personal trainer, journalist, editor and now, by far the best, a writer. In her spare time she can be found cajoling her family out to car boot sales, trying to reign in her competitiveness on the netball court and subtly eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations as inspiration for her next book. 

Follow her on Twitter @JenOliverBooks Instagram JenOliverBooks Facebook JennyOliverBooks or go to the website jennyoliverbooks.com to find out more about Jenny, her books and read her blog!

Jenny’s new book, The Summer We Ran Away hit the shelves in June 2020. If you are looking for some bite-size reads why not try her Cherry Pie Island novella series. Or if it’s YA you love – check out Chelsea High, coming August 2020!


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The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

This morning I’m sharing my review for this gorgeous book again. I originally shared my review at the start of April 2020, two weeks into lockdown in the UK – not a good time for a debut novel to be published. So I’m sharing this again as the bookshops in the UK are starting to reopen this week.

Synopsis:

Six strangers with one universal thing in common: their lives aren’t always what they make them out to be.

What would happen if they told the truth instead?

Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.

Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood café, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story.

Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely.

My thoughts:

Thank you to Transworld Publishers and Random House UK for a digital review copy – my thoughts are my own.

After seeing great reviews for this book, I enjoyed reading my review copy. I read about half one evening and then used our enforced staying at home time to finish the book during the morning. I was desperate to find out what happened but I also didn’t want the story to finish.

I loved the story telling in this book, the way the lives of the strangers become entwined as they each embark on their journeys of self discovery, how they face up to what happened in their past and how they move forward, all aided by The Authenticity Project book.

I would love to be able to go a visit Monica’s cafe, to sit with a hot chocolate in the Library area. The sense of community spirit, helping strangers who then become friends, shines out from this story.

As other reviewers have commented, this would make a good film or TV series. One of my favourite books of 2020 – uplifting and enjoyable. One to look out for when the bookshops reopen.

Clare Pooley:

Clare Pooley graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge and spent twenty years in the heady world of advertising. 

When Clare realised that she was drinking way too much, she quit, and started a blog called Mummy was a Secret Drinker, which became a memoir – The Sober Diaries. 

The Authenticity Project, Clare’s first novel, was inspired by her experience of telling the truth about her life.



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Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior

Today I’m sharing my review for this lovely book again as a recommendation for an uplifting read. Thank you to Random House for a digital review copy via NetGalley – my thoughts are my own. This is also known as How the Penguins Saved Veronica in the United States.

Synopsis

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting 
instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

My thoughts:

This is one of my favourite books of the year. Veronica McCreedy is a wonderful older lady who makes major changes to her life after being hidden away from the world, mostly at home. I love the way the story develops and the reader is hooked.

Hazel Prior has created a wonderful cast of characters and interspersed the story with facts about penguins. The story looks at how life events have changed Veronica and how spending time with a small group of scientists and thousands of penguins can dramatically change your outlook.

I loved this book and will be buying a copy for my daughter. In this current time of uncertainty and anxiety, this book is uplifting and I would love to see it turned into a TV drama. If you enjoyed Saving Missy by Beth Morrey, you may enjoy this too.

Hazel Prior

HAZEL PRIOR lives on Exmoor with her husband and a huge ginger cat. As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist. Ellie and the Harp-Maker was her first novel.

Lucy’s Law by Marc Abraham


Today I’m sharing my review again for this historic record of how the law was changed.

Synopsis:

The true story of one little dog who helped bring an end to puppy farming in the UK. Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was born into a Welsh puppy farm in 2008. She was repeatedly bred to produce litters of cute puppies, who were taken from her shortly after birth to be sold online and transported many miles across the UK. Life on a puppy farm is grim, and the dogs aren’t vaccinated, loved orlooked after.

Lucy was rescued in 2013 and was in a terrible way – her spine was fused, she was covered in scalds and burns, blind in one eye, had crippling arthritis, separation anxiety, and was badly underweight. Her life turned around when she was chosen for adoption and rehabilitated by Lisa Garner, dog-lover extraordinaire. Lisa had shared her life with many dogs beforehand, but she recognised something extra special about little Lucy, and so their unique journey together began which would eventually change the world…

My thoughts:-

I received a digital review copy via NetGalley from Mirror Books – my thoughts are my own..

I had a basic understanding of Lucy’s Law before reading, having adopted our own rescue King Charles Cavalier 2 years ago. However this book gives the full details of how Lucy was rescued from a puppy farm, adopted and then met an extraordinary vet – Marc Abraham. Marc details in his book how a small group of people managed to change the law to protect ‘man’s best friend’.

The book should be read by animal lovers, future vets, future politicians and anyone looking at how to change the law. It is heartbreaking in places so perhaps most suitable for age 14 and above.

I also hope that the main campaigners will be honoured for their work to stop the puppy farms.

Our rescue dog:-

Marc Abrahams:

Marc Abraham BVM&S MRCVS is the TV vet giving pet advice on ITV’s This Morning, BBC Breakfast, Sky’s My Pet Shame and Crufts. As a vet advisor to the Kennel Club Marc passionately promotes responsible pet ownership, rescue pet adoption, microchipping and animal welfare. Creator of the hugely successful PUP AID Puppy Farming Awareness Day – Marc actively campaigns against the cruel industry of puppy farming and also helps judge a range of charity dog shows.

To keep up with all Marc’s adventures or even follow him on Twitter visit http://www.marcthevet.com.

#Blog Tour for Heartbreak in the Valleys by Francesca Capaldi

I’m pleased to share my review today for this historical fiction novel set in the Welsh Valleys during the First World War. Thank you to Hera Books for a digital review copy – my thoughts are my own.

Synopsis

The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of
Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War. 

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

A beautiful, emotional and heart-breaking saga set in the Welsh Valleys of the Great War
that fans of Nadine Dorries, Rosie Goodwin and Sheila Newbury will love.

My thoughts:

This book is well written and researched. Francesca Capaldi start the book by explaining that the war didn’t finish by the first Christmas in 1914 as widely hoped and more young men volunteered from the village of Dorcalon. However one of the young men, Idris, is sent home due to being medically unfit and breaks off his long time engagement with Anwen. The novel follows the lives of Anwen and Idris as they deal with lives made even more difficult by the loss of loved ones to consumption, food shortages, profiteering, domestic violence and social changes. The work at the mines had become slightly better paid – coal was needed for the war effort, but the living conditions weren’t improving.

I enjoyed the novel which brought the village of Dorcalon to life – the choir, the allotment, the hardships, the start of social change and the community spirit. The explosion at the colliery is dealt with sensitively, you feel the emotion of the characters as they wait for news.

I’m pleased to see that Francesca Capaldi is looking to set another book in the area of Dorcalon – she brought the Valley to life in this book. I was initially drawn to this book because I come from a coal mining family, albeit in Derbyshire, rather than Wales. At the end of the book, Francesca Capaldi talks about her inspiration coming from her own family. I also wish I had listened more to my grandpa and his brothers, who all went down the pit at the age of 14. I remember seeing the scars on my grandpa’s back from rockfalls. I’ve also visited the National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield a couple of times with my own teenagers, and appreciate how difficult it must have been to work underground – for more information visit www.ncm.org.uk

Frances Capaldi

Several years ago, Francesca Capaldi pursued a childhood dream and joined a creative writing class. Lots of published short stories, a serial, and three pocket novels later, she’s now explored her mother’s ancestral history for a novel set in a Welsh colliery village. A history graduate and former teacher, she hails from the Sussex coast but now lives in Kent with her family and a cat called Lando Calrissian.

Social media links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FrancescaCapaldiAuthor/

Blog: www.writemindswriteplace.wordpress.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/FCapaldiBurgess

#blogtour Growing Up for Beginners by Claire Calman

I’m pleased to be able to share my review for Growing Up for Beginners today. Thank you to Boldwood Books for my digital advanced review copy via NetGalley – my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift. Thank you also to Claire Calman for taking time to answer some questions – the question and answer session is included after my review.

Synopsis

It’s not easy being a grown-up, but at 47, Eleanor hoped she’d be better at it by now…

But when Eleanor waves her daughter off for a gap-year trip, she finds herself stuck as a satellite wife, spinning in faithful orbit around domineering husband Roger, with only a stash of hidden books and her brilliant but judgmental father Conrad for comfort.

Andrew isn’t mastering the art of growing up either. When he finds his belongings dumped on the drive, although he may not understand women very well, even he can see that this looks like some kind of hint… and so moves back in with his parents.

Backing onto Andrew’s parents lives artist Cecilia, always ready to recount tales of her innumerable ex-lovers, whilst her daughters feel she’s like a misbehaving teenager.

But now four lives are drawn together by long-buried secrets of the past, and it is time for them all to grow up, before it’s too late.

A desperate decision … A lost letter … A powerful secret hidden for thirty years…

My thoughts:

This is the first book I’ve read by Claire Calman. I love the gorgeous cover, it is bright, cheerful and fits the story perfectly.

The story is told by various characters / POV’s and I found it took a few chapters to get into the flow of the story. Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, some readers quickly gave up – my advice is to stick with it if you can, it will be worth it.

As the title suggests, it is time for some of the characters to grow up. Eleanor, whose children have now flown the nest, has to deal with her husband Roger, who is one of the most obnoxious characters I’ve ever met in a book and her dad, Conrad. She meets Andrew (via Conrad), who suddenly finds himself living back with his parents (with a mum determined to feed him up) and needs to move forward with his life. My favourite character is Cecilia, who embarrasses her daughters with tales of her flamboyant past. 

I enjoyed the book and hope you will be tempted to read it too. Topics covered include lost love, parenting issues, adultery, sibling relationships, creativity and a love of books.

Question and Answer session with Claire Calman:

Questions:

1) Do you read the end of a fiction book first or do you know other people who do?

No, I don’t – but I do hate it when books don’t have proper endings. It’s not that the end has to be happy (though I’ve really gone off books that leave me feeling I might as well hide under the duvet as everything is awful), but I do want that feeling of rightness, that sense of ‘ah, yes – of course that’s the end. 
I do know more than one person who habitually reads the end first and I think it’s more common than one may realise. 

2) Was Roger inspired by someone or a combination of people?

There are specific things he does that stem from a range of people, eg always driving except when he wants to drink, and I’m afraid to say – the cutting of the books. The thing is that someone like Roger really has no idea that he’s a bully – I think he’d be genuinely baffled by the thought. 

3) How has lockdown publication differed to normal publication for you?

Well – being superficial for a moment – no book launch! Missing out on some of the really enjoyable stuff when you have a novel published, eg doing festivals or talks in bookshops, signings, readings, more radio etc. I am doing Proms at St Jude’s LitFest – for a live Zoom event with my sister (writer Stephanie Calman) on Sunday 28th June. 

4) Are you planning or writing a new book?

Yes. I had real problems focusing properly on writing at the start of lockdown because – like many people – I felt just really anxious about the whole thing, but I’m working better now. The next book is very different in tone. It’s set in Kent near where I used to live. 

Thank you Claire for taking time out during publication week to answer these questions.

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/2W6QeB4

Claire Calman is a writer and broadcaster known for her novels that combine wit and pathos, including the bestseller Love is a Four-Letter Word. She has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Loose Ends.

Social Media Link – 
Newsletter sign up: http://bit.ly/ClaireCalmanNewsletter

Twitter – @clairecalman

Lockdown by Peter May #Spoilers



Thank you to Quercus Books for the digital review copy of Lockdown back in April 2020. Apologies for the delay in reading and reviewing my first read of a Peter May book. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synposis:

Written over fifteen years ago, this prescient, suspenseful thriller is set against a backdrop of a capital city in quarantine, and explores human experience in the grip of a killer virus.

‘They said that twenty-five percent of the population would catch the flu. Between seventy and eighty percent of them would die. He had been directly exposed to it, and the odds weren’t good.’ 

A CITY IN QUARANTINE

London, the epicenter of a global pandemic, is a city in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer. Martial law has been imposed. No-one is safe from the deadly virus that has already claimed thousands of victims. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed. 

A MURDERED CHILD

At a building site for a temporary hospital, construction workers find a bag containing the rendered bones of a murdered child. A remorseless killer has been unleashed on the city; his mission is to take all measures necessary to prevent the bones from being identified. 

A POWERFUL CONSPIRACY

D.I. Jack MacNeil, counting down the hours on his final day with the Met, is sent to investigate. His career is in ruins, his marriage over and his own family touched by the virus. Sinister forces are tracking his every move, prepared to kill again to conceal the truth. Which will stop him first – the virus or the killers?

My thoughts:

I finally started the book during week 11 of lockdown in the UK. It was fascinating to see how Peter May had imagined a pandemic would affect London – the army checkpoints, curfews, the mass cremations etc – a very sobering read.

However the majority of the book is actually a murder investigation by D.I. Jack MacNeil, a Scottish man living and working in London. This is his last day working for the police before leaving to spend time with his young son – a day (and night) spent investigating the death of a young girl.

Despite the gruesome subject matter of murder and pandemics I enjoyed the majority of the book and would have given it a 4.5 star rating. However, the last 10-15% of the story was so unbelievable (in terms of Pinkie) that my enjoyment of the book and subsequent rating was dramatically reduced.

I know other readers have enjoyed the book and that this is my personal opinion, but I would love to see the ending rewritten because the majority of the book was an excellent read.

I recommend the book to be read to see how close to the real events of 2020 Peter May had imagined in 2005, but not as realistic crime fiction novel.



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The Sight of You by Holly Miller


I’m pleased to share my review for this beautiful book, the debut novel of Holly Miller. Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton for granting my wish to review a preview copy via NetGalley after seeing such many positive comments on social media – I now understand why so many people love this book.

Synopsis:

Joel is afraid of the future.
Since he was a child he’s been haunted by dreams about the people he loves. Visions of what’s going to happen – the good and the bad. And the only way to prevent them is to never let anyone close to him again. 

Callie can’t let go of the past.
Since her best friend died, Callie’s been lost. She knows she needs to be more spontaneous and live a bigger life. She just doesn’t know how to find a way back to the person who used to have those dreams.

Joel and Callie both need a reason to start living for today. 
And though they’re not looking for each other, from the moment they meet it feels like the start of something life-changing. 

Until Joel has a vision of how it’s going to end . . .

My thoughts:


The Sight of You is the story of Joel and Callie – I loved the way the characters developed and began to interact with each other. This is a really difficult book to review without giving away any spoilers – it should be read without any hints or clues about what will happen – and without any interruptions. I curled up on the sofa and ignored the family to enjoy the story of Joel and Callie.

As we currently live in very uncertain times (this book is set in non-Covid times so people can still socialise normally and sit in a cafe – if only!), this book gives you a break from reality to fall in love with Joel and Callie. This is a book that made me cry at the end – a good sign of being emotionally involved in the characters and their lives.

The Sight of You is published in hardback and ebook on 11th June in the UK, and in paperback in January 2021. One of my favourite books of the year, thank you Holly Miller. I totally agree with the Hodder and Stoughton marketing slogan – “the love story of 2020 that will break your heart”.

Amazon purchase links https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07RHV8LF5/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_45G2EbMRY623E

Waterstones purchase links https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-sight-of-you/holly-miller/9781529324341



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Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan


I’m pleased to share my review for the new book by Sarah Vaughan – thank you to Simon and Schuster UK for a digital review copy via NetGalley. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the free digital proof copy.

Synopsis:

A new thought-provoking novel exploring the complexity of motherhood and all that connects and disconnects us.

You think you know her…but look a little closer.

She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy, and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess. 

Then one moment changes everything. 

Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface—and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself. The truth can’t come soon enough.

My thoughts:

This is a very emotional book, beautifully written and all too believable. It is almost 18 years since I attended the antenatal classes for our first child and this book made me think carefully about the other parents-to-be we met.

The story is set ten years later when Jess takes baby Betsey to hospital because she seems unwell but in fact has a fractured skull. Her friend Liz, from the antenatal class, is a doctor at the hospital and has to involve the police and social services.

As the story evolves, we have flashbacks to how the antenatal group bonded over sleepless nights and mum’s nights out. Alongside the mystery of Betsey’s injury, Liz is dealing with her mother, who we discover has had a difficult relationship with her children.

This is a fast paced story, I didn’t want to put it down. As a mum of two, this reminded me how different life is when you become a mother, especially if you aren’t sleeping properly, have a poorly child and feel isolated from the world. We are very good at bottling up our feelings or hiding how we feel. I remember crying over a neighbour in my early days as a mum, she made my a cup of tea, sat me down and did my ironing. Sometimes we can help a mum by listening and/or doing something practical to help, sometimes professional help is needed. In my opinion, Sarah Vaughan has captured this perfectly in the story.

This is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Vaughan and I look forward to catching up on her previous books.

Sarah Vaughan:

Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to be a journalist. After training with the Press Association, she worked for The Guardian for 11 years as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent before leaving to freelance and write fiction.

Her 3rd novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, was an instant international bestseller, a Sunday Times top five bestseller, a kindle number 1 bestseller, a Richard & Judy pick, and was longlisted for the Theakson’s Old Peculier Crime Novel and shortlisted for awards in France, Sweden and the UK. It has been translated into 22 languages and is being adapted for TV.

Her 4th novel, Little Disasters, will be published in France, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the UK on April 2 and the US on August 18. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two young children. 

For more information about how Sarah writes, what inspires her writing, what books she enjoys reading – check out the Twitter Q&A session from Wednesday 5th June using #AtHomeWithBATC


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A Forget-Me-Not Summer by Sophie Claire


I’m pleased to share my review for the latest book by Sophie Claire today. Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton for a digital advanced review copy via NetGalley – my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

It’s taken years, but Natasha Brown’s life is finally on track. Running a florists in the quaint village of Willowbrook, she’s put her short-lived marriage to Luc Duval far behind her. That is, until he unexpectedly walks through her shop door, three years after their divorce.

Luc reveals that he never told his family about their split, and now his father is desperately ill and demanding to meet Natasha. Luc needs her to come to France and pretend they’re still happily married. Natasha is horrified, but when Luc makes her an offer she can’t refuse, reluctantly packs her bags. 

The deal is two weeks on a vineyard with his family, but will Luc and Natasha be able to play the perfect couple after years apart? And in the glorious Provence sun, will the old spark between them be impossible to ignore?

My thoughts:

After reading and enjoying The Christmas Holiday in 2019, I’m pleased to say that A Forget-Me-Not Summer is a lovely read too. However before we look at the story, I want to say how lovely the cover of the book is – I hope our garden sunflowers will look so bright and cheerful this year.

The book follows the story of Natasha and Luc, who were married for a few weeks before divorcing after a tragic miscarriage, only to be reunited when Luc’s dad is seriously ill in hospital. Luc and Natasha have two weeks pretending to still be married, to look back at why their marriage failed and how little they actually knew about each other. Through a family wedding into the mix, and let the story evolve.

In addition to the characters, the descriptions of French towns, markets and food, make for a gorgeous book to curl up with and escape the modern world. This is a book full of missed opportunities, miscommunication and most importantly, love.

Already available in ebook format, the paperback will be published on June 11th 2020.

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