Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro

Today I’m sharing my thoughts about Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro. Thank you to Tinder Press for a copy of this novel, won in a prize draw on Twitter. Common Ground was published on Thursday 25th March in the UK.

Synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of ESCAPE ROUTES, a bittersweet story of coming-of-age in a divided world, in the tradition of TIN MAN or BLACK SWAN GREEN.

It’s a lonely life for Stan, at a new school that feels more ordeal than fresh start, and at home where he and his mother struggle to break the silence after his father’s death. When he encounters fearless, clever Charlie on the local common, all of that begins to change. Charlie’s curiosity is infectious, and it is Charlie who teaches Stan, for the first time, to stand on his own two feet. But will their unit of two be strong enough to endure in a world that offers these boys such different prospects?

The pair part ways, until their paths cross once again, as adults in London. Now Stan is revelling in all that the city has to offer, while Charlie seems to have hit a brick wall. He needs Stan’s help, and above all his friendship, but is Stan really there for the man who once showed him the meaning of loyalty?

My thoughts:

I haven’t read Escape Routes yet, so this was my first introduction to the writing of Naomi Ishiguro. As the synopsis above states, this is a story about Stan and Charlie, two boys growing up in England, struggling to fit in with the ‘norm’. The boys have lived very different lives but find a common bond and become friends, but will their families be able to accept the friendship?

I enjoyed the story, both the teenage years and the ‘getting reacquainted’ in their early twenties. Naomi’s writing quickly made me care about both of them, hoping that they would find peace in a world that seemed to be stacked against them. I’m being deliberately vague in my review, because I don’t want to spoil the story for future readers, who also deserve to have the moment of clarity about the story that I did.

I work for a social mobility charity and this story could easily be about the young people that we work with. How many single parents leave their young teenagers home alone overnight so that they can work and earn the money needed to survive?

This is a thought provoking, well written debut novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more by Naomi Ishiguro in the future.

Author Bio (from Amazon):

Naomi Ishiguro was born in London, in 1992. Her first novel, ‘Common Ground,’ comes out with Tinder Press on 25th March 2021. Her first collection of stories, ‘Escape Routes,’ was published in February 2020. She’s a recent graduate of the University of East Anglia’s MFA Creative Writing Programme, and spent two years in her early 20s working as a bookseller at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath.

When Harry met Minnie by Martha Teichner

Thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the opportunity to read and review this thought provoking book, about the true events of what happened when Harry met Minnie and Martha. Thank you to Octopus Books for the review copy.

Synopsis:

There are true fairy tales. Stories that exist because impossible-to-explain coincidences change everything. Except in real life, not all of them have conventional, happily-ever-after endings. When Harry Met Minnie is that kind of fairy tale, with the vibrant, romantic New York City backdrop of its namesake, the movie When Harry Met Sally, and the bittersweet wisdom of Tuesdays with Morrie.

There’s a special camaraderie among early-morning dog walkers. In this special space and time, a chance encounter with an old acquaintance changed Martha Teichner’s world.As fate would have it, her friend knew someone who was dying of cancer, from exposure to toxins after 9/11, and desperate to find a home for her dog, Harry. He was a Bull Terrier, the same breed as Martha’s dear Minnie. Martha agrees to meet Harry andhis owner Carol. What begins as a transaction involving a dog becomes a deep and meaningful friendship between two women with complicated lives and a love of Bull Terriers in common. Through the heartbreak and grief of Carol’s illness, the bond that develops changed Martha’s life, Carol’s life, Minnie’s life, Harry’s life. As it changed Carol’s death as well.

Loneliness as a topic is becoming more and more prominent – especially in these uncertain times. This book explores what can happen when we take the time to talk to those around us. This is a memoir of love and loss, of being in the right place at the right time, and of the mysterious ways a beloved pet can bring people together.

“I decided to write this book, because I didn’t want to stop living the story of what happened when Harry met Minnie. I didn’t want to forget any of it, even the sad parts. This story of unexpected friendship, of love, was a wonderful gift, and in the end, it made me and Minnie happy.”

– Martha Teichner, CBS Sunday Morning News correspondent and multi-award-winner.

My thoughts:

I must admit that the picture of the book ‘sold’ this book to me. As a dog adopter myself, I was keen to find out who Harry and Minnie were. As ‘a Brit’, I had never heard of Martha Teichner, but after reading this, I feel as if I would love to meet her, to hear more of her stories about her work and her love of dogs.

But back to the book. Martha is introduced to Carol and her bull terrier, Harry by a mutual friend, Stephen who knows that Carol is looking for someone to care for Harry due to her terminal cancer diagnosis. The first meetings between Harry and Minnie, Carol and Martha made me chuckle in places as everyone wondered whether the two dogs would be happy to spend time together. This time also enabled Carol and Martha to build a friendship, to share stories about their careers and their love for their dogs.

The book is also heartbreaking, as Carol becomes more poorly and her friends try to make her last days as comfortable as possible. However, the uplifting part of the story is how the friends became a ‘family’, looking out for each other and helping when times are tough. Happy to recommend as a book about the power of friendship and kindness, for humans and dogs alike.

Author Bio:

Martha Teichner has been a correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning” since December 1993. Since joining CBS News in 1977, Teichner has earned multiple national awards for her original reporting, including 11 Emmy Awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and five James Beard Foundation Awards.

Martha has reported on some of the largest national and international stories of this era, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the run-up to the war in Iraq, the death of Princess Diana and the life and death of Nelson Mandela. She’s interviewed world leaders and other newsmakers, including then-first lady Hillary Clinton.

Now based in New York, Teichner spent more than a dozen years as a foreign correspondent covering major international news. Teichner was twice assigned to the CBS News London bureau (1980-1984, 1989-1994), covering the Northern Ireland hunger strikes, the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and was one of only a handful of female war correspondents.

Teichner covered the Lebanon War, the 1st Intifada in 1988 in Israel and the West Bank, embedded with the US First Armored Division in the Persian Gulf War, covered the conflicts associated with the collapse of Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia) and spent three years in South Africa during the last years of apartheid. She reported on
the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the Romanian revolution. Teichner also spent several weeks in the Bolivian jungle covering undercover operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

For any enquiries, please contact karen.baker@octopusbooks.co.uk or victoria.scales@octopusbooks.co.uk

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession

Today I’m sharing my mini review about Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession, published by Bluemoose Books. I bought my copy from Bert’s Books, my local bookseller, who sells books online via http://www.bertsbooks.co.uk, with an personalised letter and ribbon, perfect for a present to a loved one or yourself.

Synopsis:

Leonard and Hungry Paul are two friends who see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the 21st century.

‘The figure in Munch’s painting isn’t actually screaming!’ Hungry Paul said. ‘Really, are you sure?’ Replied Leonard. ‘Absolutely. That’s the whole thing. The figure is actually closing his ears to block outa scream. Isn’t that amazing? A painting can be so misunderstood and still become so famous.’

LEONARD AND HUNGRY PAUL is the story of two quiet friends trying to find their place in the world. It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.

My thoughts:

Thank you to the Motherload Facebook book club for picking this as their monthly read, which encouraged me to treat myself to a copy AND to get on with reading it.

This is a beautiful, gentle story about how two men make subtle changes in their lives and also help other people to realise that they are more capable than expected.

In a year when most people have had much less ‘going out’ time than usual, I couldn’t help feeling that Leonard and Hungry Paul were ahead of the curve, preferring quiet evenings in with a board game.

I loved reading about the friendships and the family dynamics in this book. I look forward to reading more by Rónán Hession (aka Mumblin’ Deaf Ro on Twitter) in the future. If you haven’t read this book, then I humbly suggest you grab a copy, and settle down to read it.

Serving suggestion!

Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton

I’m pleased to be joining the Random Things Tours blog tour for this wonderful debut novel by Emily Houghton. Thank you to Anne Cater for the invitation to join the tour and a proof copy of the book. The book was published in ebook format this week and will be available in hardback next week in the UK.

Synopsis:

CAN YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE YOU’VENEVER SEEN?

Alice and Alfie are strangers. But they sleep next to each other every night.

Alfie Mack has been in hospital for months recovering from an accident. A new face on the ward is about as exciting as life gets for him right now, so when someone moves into the bed next to him he’s eager to make friends. But it quickly becomes clear that seeing his neighbour’s face won’t happen any time soon.

Alice Gunnersley has been badly burned and can’t even look at herself yet, let alone allow anyone else to see her. Keeping the curtain around her bed firmly closed, it doesn’t stop Alfie trying to get to know her. And gradually, as he slowly brings Alice out of her shell, might there even be potential for more?

My thoughts:

I loved the look and sound of this story, with a colourful cover and an intriguing synopsis. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review this debut novel before publication. But would it deliver the escapism I was craving at the start of lockdown 3? Well I’m pleased to say it certainly did.

The style of the book reminded me of The Flatshare, where the story is told by both main characters in alternate chapters. In this story, we have Alfie, a sociable PE teacher recovering from a life changing car accident, who has been keeping the other patients on the rehabilitation ward entertained. Alongside Alfie, hidden away behind curtains is workaholic Alice, who was badly burnt in a work place accident.

Alfie may be recovering from his physical injuries but he is struggling to deal with the emotions of losing friends in the accident and the reaction of loved ones to his injuries. Alice is refusing to look at herself and to allow others to see her. Both have experienced a traumatic event and need support, can they help each other more than the professional staff at the hospital?

I loved this book, quickly I was so involved in the lives of Alfie and Alfie I didn’t want to put the book down and ended up staying up much later than normal to carry on reading. Alfie and Alice became real as they teased each other and gave each other the opportunity to talk about their past and their worries. Life had been difficult for both of them since their accidents and both continued to have ‘bad’ days, made worse when they fell out on a number of occasions.

I liked the fact that this story didn’t wave a magic wand and suddenly make everything perfect. Alfie and Alice had to face up to their ‘new’ lives and to make major decisions, including whether they would stay in contact. As this is a no spoiler review, I will encourage you to read this emotional book to find out what happens to Alfie and Alice.

Thank you to Emily Houghton for a brilliant book to escape into, I look forward to reading more of your books in the future.

Author Bio:

Emily Houghton is an ex digital specialist and full-time creative writer.
She originally comes from Essex but now lives in London. Emily is a trained yoga and spin teacher, completely obsessed with dogs and has dreamt of being an author ever since she could hold a pen.

Emily is available for written features about her experiences and learnings on topics including; dating and the vulnerability of meeting people, self-love, body confidence, processing pain and the physical emotional body connection.

For more information please contact Hayley Barnes, Senior Press Officer, Transworld Publishers: HBarnes@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk | 020 8231 6730

The House Beneath the Cliffs by Sharon Gosling

Today I’m thrilled to be sharing my thoughts about this debut adult fiction novel by Sharon Gosling. Thanks to Sara-Jade at Books and The City for this gorgeous proof copy, my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift. The book is due to be published by Simon and Schuster in the UK on 29th April 2021.

Synopsis:

A remote yet beautiful village. A tiny kitchen lunch club. The perfect place to start again.

Anna moves to Crovie, a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth, for a fresh start. But when she arrives, she realises her new home is really no more than a shed, and the village itself sits beneath a cliff right on the edge of the sea, in constant danger of storms and landslides. Has she made a terrible mistake?

Yet as she begins to learn about the Scottish coast and its people, something she thought she’d lost reawakens in her. She rediscovers her love of cooking, and turns her kitchen into a pop-up lunch club. But not all the locals are delighted about her arrival, and some are keen to see her plans fail.

Will Anna really be able to put down roots in this remote and wild village? Or will her fragile new beginning start to crumble with the cliffs . . . ?

Beautiful, moving and utterly absorbing, The House Beneath the Cliffs is a novel of friendship and food, storms and secrets, and the beauty of second chances 

My thoughts:

Anna has finally left behind the dreadful Geoff, and has bought herself a ‘house’ in the village of Crovie, to escape from her previous life, where her dreams and ambitions were ignored by the person who should have helped her the most.

This book was a much needed escape from the start of 2021, as we were back in Lockdown again in the UK. Sharon brought the village of Crovie, on the coast of Scotland to life, the smells and sound of the sea and the taste of the food. This is not a book to reading whilst dieting, because the food that Anna prepares for her new friends and customers sounded delicious.

The story follows Anna in her first few months in Crovie, making good friends (so many great characters in this book) and the occasional enemy (Douglas McKean), as she decides what to do next with her life. Through a number of adventures/opportunities, Anna quickly becomes part of the local area, boosting tourist numbers and helping when the summer storm threatens to destroy everything. But will she stay or will she go?

This is a lovely book to read, a timely reminder of why friendship and community are important, especially in times of trouble or illness. Also it is a reminder that it is never too late to change a job or area if it means we can find (or reignite) a passion for something we enjoy. My favourite character was Young Robbie, who was determined to protect the local dolphin pod from danger. I look forward to reading more by Sharon in the future.

Author Bio:

Sharon Gosling began her career in entertainment journalism, writing for magazines in the science fiction and fantasy genre, before moving on to write tie-in books for TV shows such as Stargate and the ‘re-imagined’ Battlestar Galactica. She has also written, produced and directed audio dramas based in the same genre. 

She lives in London with her husband and a cantankerous cat, surrounded by books and daleks.

The minute I saw you by Paige Toon

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on ‘the minute I saw you‘ by Paige Toon. A huge thank you to Sara-Jade of Books and The City for this gorgeous book which popped through my letterbox just before Christmas 2020.

Synopsis:

When Hannah meets Sonny, she’s irresistibly drawn to him: he’s sexy and confident, but only in town on holiday. That’s fine with Hannah – she doesn’t do long-term relationships. And luckily for her, neither does Sonny. But before they can even so much as kiss, Sonny receives some shocking news and commits to making serious life changes – ones that can’t and won’t include romance.

With even a short fling now off the cards, Hannah and Sonny settle for being friends. But as summer hots up and their chemistry shows no signs of cooling, they start to question their reasons for shutting each other out.

Are they both too broken to find love? And if they tear down the walls between them, will they still like what’s on the other side?

My thoughts:

My initial thoughts are why has it taken me so long to read one of Paige’s books. I have five sat on my Kindle at the moment. I bought them during lockdown part 1 to read on holiday later in the year. The holiday didn’t happen and so they are still waiting to be read.

I picked this book up over the Christmas holidays when our local area was plunged into Tier 4 as rates of Covid had doubled in just a week, and my anxiety levels had also risen. Now was not the time to be reading something depressing.

I partly chose this book from the to-be-read shelves because it is set in Cambridge, where I should be this month with a group of students and work colleagues. It is a beautiful part of the world and I hope to head back there again one day soon.

The story revolves around Hannah and Sonny, who are both fighting demons from their past, which have made them act differently and could stop them finding the happiness they both deserve. The story flows well, as slowly we find out more about what has happened in the past and how they can help each other with friendship to move forward.

There are so many fabulous characters in this book, including Archie and Matilda, plus the four legged best friend Bertie, who spent more time visiting pubs and people than any of us did in 2020. This book tackles both fun and serious issues but in a sensitive and skilful way, so that the reader is left feeling uplifted by the experience.

Happy to recommend this fabulous book for anyone wanting an emotional read (the gorgeous dragonflies from the cover feature in the story too). I’m looking forward to reading more from Paige in the future too.

Author Bio (from Amazon):

Paige Toon was born in 1975 and grew up between England, Australia and America, following her racing driver father around the globe. A philosophy graduate, she worked at teen, film and women’s magazines, before ending up at Heat magazine as Reviews Editor. Paige is married, has two children and lives in Cambridge.

Visit Paige’s website at paigetoon.com to sign up to her free book club, ‘The Hidden Paige’, and say hi to her on Twitter @PaigeToonAuthor and Facebook.com/PaigeToonAuthor

There are more reviews this month on my book blog for other Books and the City Books, including these:

Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly

Today I’m sharing my review for this new book being published by Hot Key Books today. I received my copy via Readers First after reading the opening chapters and requesting a copy.

Synopsis:

From Jennifer Donnelly, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Stepsister, comes a fairytale retelling that’ll forever change the way you think about strength, power, and the real meaning of “happily ever after.”
Once upon a time, a girl named Sophie rode into the forest with the queen’s huntsman. Her lips were the color of ripe cherries, her skin as soft as new-fallen snow, her hair as dark as midnight. When they stopped to rest, the huntsman took out his knife . . . and took Sophie’s heart. 

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Sophie had heard the rumors, the whispers. They said she was too kind and foolish to rule — a waste of a princess. A disaster of a future queen. And Sophie believed them. She believed everything she’d heard about herself, the poisonous words people use to keep girls like Sophie from becoming too powerful, too strong . . .

With the help of seven mysterious strangers, Sophie manages to survive. But when she realizes that the jealous queen might not be to blame, Sophie must find the courage to face an even more terrifying enemy, proving that even the darkest magic can’t extinguish the fire burning inside every girl, and that kindness is the ultimate form of strength. 

My thoughts:

This is my first novel by Jennifer Donnelly and I have to say that I was very impressed. This is a modern version of Snow White and personally I believe that it is the best version I have read. I enjoyed watching Once Upon a Time on TV over the past decade and this would make a great film or TV show too.

Sophie has been bullied to believe that a Queen cannot be kind or to care about other people and finds herself facing death. However the kindness of strangers at her time of need, and the repayment for her own kindness from the past, mean that Sophie may be stronger than she thinks when facing her enemies.

A great retelling full of dark magic, a poisoned apple, a handsome prince, an archer and an evil stepmother with a reminder about how to seize your own happy ever after.

Poppy’s Recipe For Life by Heidi Swain

Today I’m sharing my thoughts about Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain. Although this is book 2 in the Nightingale Square series, this was actually the third book I read, having read the new The Winer Garden book first. This was published in 2019 and has been sat on my Kindle for a few months.

Synopsis:

Things haven’t always been straightforward in Poppy’s life but her dreams are finally within her reach.

She’s moving into a cottage in beautiful Nightingale Square, close to the local community garden, where she can indulge her passion for making preserves and pickles. She may not have the best relationship with her family but she is surrounded by loving friends, and feels sure that even her grumpy new neighbour, Jacob, has more to him than his steely exterior belies.

But the unexpected arrival of Poppy’s troubled younger brother soon threatens her new-found happiness and as the garden team works together to win community space of the year, Poppy must decide where her priorities lie and what she is prepared to fight for … 

My thoughts:

Readers of The Nightingale Square series met Poppy in the first book, Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square, when Poppy served Kate and Luke in the shop. It was great to find out more about Poppy and the other shop keepers, and to see how life in Nightingale Square is treating the residents since Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square ended (my review is at https://mentoringmumof2bookreviews.home.blog/2020/09/25/sunshine-and-sweet-peas-in-nightingale-square-by-heidi-swain/)

Poppy has had a difficult time growing up with a non maternal mother, but has made a life for herself with good friends. Moving into Nightingale Square makes life even better, despite Mr Grumpy living next door.

I enjoyed how the new characters evolved and mixed with the original members of Nightingale Square. This book is set a few months later than book one, so there are some new additions to the Square as well as Poppy.

There is also a bookshop in need of refurbishment, with a dog in need of a new friend – this storyline alone was worth 5 stars. Poppy endures a number of challenges she wasn’t expecting including looking after her younger brother and helping friends, with a number of setbacks sent to try her.

This is a lovely feel good book, full of hope, a sprinkling of romance and an abundance of community spirit. I enjoyed the first book, Sunshine and Sweet Peas in Nightingale Square, but I think I enjoyed this one even more. A 5 star read for me.

Tomorrow I will be sharing my review for the latest book in the series – The Winter Garden.