Hungry by Grace Dent

Today I’m starting my 2021 book blog reviews with a mini review for the book I started in 2020 and finished on New Years Day. Thanks to Mudlark Books for a copy of this book via the Readers First website.

Synopsis:

From Frazzles to Foie Gras: a memoir of wanting more.

From an early age, Grace Dent was hungry. As a little girl growing up in Currock, Carlisle, she yearned to be something bigger, to go somewhere better.

Hungry traces Grace’s story from growing up eating beige food to becoming one of the much-loved voices on the British food scene. It’s also everyone’s story – from treats with your nan, to cheese and pineapple hedgehogs, to the exquisite joy of cheaply-made apple crumble with custard. It’s the high-point of a chip butty covered in vinegar and too much salt in the school canteen, on an otherwise grey day of double-Maths and cross country running. It’s the real story of how we have all lived, laughed, and eaten over the past 40 years.
 
Warm, funny and joyous, Hungry is also about love and loss, the central role that food plays in all our lives, and how a Cadbury’s Fruit ‘n’ Nut in a hospital vending machine can brighten the toughest situation.

My thoughts:

I must admit that I haven’t read any of Grace Dent’s food columns but I have enjoyed watching her on Masterchef. After reading the opening chapters of the book on Readers First, I knew that I would enjoy reading this book.

My favourite part of the book was when Grace was growing up. I grew up in Yorkshire in the same era as Grace grew up in Carlisle, and so many of her food stories from this time reminded me of my own childhood. I remember eating Crispy Pancakes and shopping in our new huge Asda, and must admit that I still look for the yellow reduced stickers now.

I loved hearing about how Grace developed her taste for new foods when living and working in London. When I look at the meals that we now eat at home compared to the meals of my childhood and that of my mum’s generation, there has been a huge change in the variety of meals eaten across the UK.

Grace has lived a busy and interesting life, and I enjoyed reading about how her career progressed as her tastes in food evolved. A fascinating book I’m happy to recommend.

Author Bio (From Amazon):

Grace Dent is a broadcaster, author and columnist. She is restaurant critic for the Guardian and one of Britain’s best-known voices in food.  She has been a regular face on MasterChef – in all its formats –  since 2013. Grace currently presents the multi-award-winning show The Untold on BBC Radio 4 and What We Were Watching for BBC Four. She is a familiar face on shows such as Have I Got News For YouPointless and Great British Menu. Grace has published nine books for young adults and for several years wrote ‘Grace and Flavour’ for the London Evening Standard as well as a popular Independent column.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford

Today I’m sharing one of my 5 star reviews from March 2020 for a book I enjoyed just before lockdown one, in March 2020. Thanks to Corvus Books for a copy via Readers First. The paperback of the book was published in October 2020.

Publisher comments:-

When Fred Lawson takes a summer job on St Kilda in 1927, little does he realise that he has joined the last community to ever live on that desolate, isolated island. Only three years later, St Kilda will be evacuated, the islanders near-dead from starvation. But for Fred, that summer is the bedrock of his whole life…

Chrissie Gillies is just nineteen when the researchers come to St Kilda. Hired as their cook, she can’t believe they would ever notice her, sophisticated and educated as they are. But she soon develops a cautious friendship with Fred, a friendship that cannot be allowed to develop into anything more…

Years later, to help deal with his hellish existence in a German prisoner of war camp, Fred tells the tale of the island and the woman he loved, but left behind. And Fred starts to wonder, where is Chrissie now? And does she ever think of him too?

Hardback published in March 2020.

My thoughts:-

I’ve read a lot of historical fiction over the past few years, but none by Elisabeth Gifford so far. I can see that I now need to go and read her previous books. Her new book, The Good Doctor of Warsaw is being published in January 2021.

I enjoyed visiting the St Kilda Elisabeth described, the detail about the lives of the islanders really brought the island to life. I had no idea about the hardship the people faced, cut off from the world by storms every winter and surviving on very little food. The book looks at different periods in time, including when Chrissie and Fred first meet and when Fred is fighting to survive in occupied France.

The book explores young love, jealousy, taking the blame, secrets and the loss of loved ones. Beautifully written, full of interesting details and emotion. One of my favourite books of the year.


The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Today I’m sharing another of my 2020 5 star read reviews from February 2020.

Synopsis:

Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why. Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

From the bestselling author of The Familiars, and set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, The Foundling explores families, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood

My thoughts:

I have a confession. I still haven’t read The Familiars by Stacey Halls (it is on my Kindle ready to go).

However after seeing great reviews and reading the opening chapters of The Foundling, I decided to use my Readers First points in January 2020 to ‘buy’ a copy of this book. The hardback book is beautiful to look at, a stunning cover design.

The story is based on the true Foundling Hospital in London, set up to help children who had parents unable to care for them. From the opening chapter, when a young woman asks to give up her baby born just hours earlier, we are transported back in time to 1747 to watch the baby lottery.

The descriptions of Georgian London are of two different worlds – the rich and the very poor. The story is told from the view of both main characters and we are slowly drip fed information to help explain what happened after the visit to the Foundling Hospital. As a mother, this is a heartbreaking read in places.

I’ve been happy to recommend the book, it is one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read. Thank you to Readers First and Manilla Press for my copy.



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The Windsor Knot by SJ Bennett

Today I’m sharing my thoughts about the Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett, being published today. Thank you to Bonnier Books, Zaffre Books and Readers First for a copy of the book – my thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift.

Synopsis:

The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

The morning after a dinner party at Windsor Castle, eighty-nine-year-old Queen Elizabeth is shocked to discover that one of her guests has been found murdered in his room, with a rope around his neck.

When the police begin to suspect her loyal servants, Her Majesty knows they are looking in the wrong place. For the Queen has been living an extraordinary double life ever since her coronation. Away from the public eye, she has a brilliant knack for solving crimes.

With her household’s happiness on the line, her secret must not get out. Can the Queen and her trusted secretary Rozie catch the killer, without getting caught themselves?

The Windsor Knot is the first book in the ‘Her Majesty The Queen Investigates’ mystery series by SJ Bennett – for fans of The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Agatha Christie and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.

My thoughts:

I must admit that when I first saw this synopsis, I did wonder whether I would find this too far fetched. However after reading and enjoying the first chapters, I quickly ordered the book via Readers First. The book arrived on Friday and was finished by Saturday evening (helped by the fact my husband went out!).

The book cover and end papers are stunning – as regular readers of my book review blog will know, I love dogs and the end papers and back cover include corgi illustrations. The dogs make regular appearances in the story, as do the Queen’s horses.

As a fan of Agatha Christie, and the recent ‘Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman, I’m pleased to say that I did enjoy this amateur detective novel – the murder mystery, the Queen’s own investigation, the humour and the characters created by S.J. Bennett.

I loved the conversations between the Queen and Prince Philip, and could imagine their voices. My favourite character is Rozie, who quickly finds herself helping the Queen in ways she wasn’t expecting when recently employed by the royal household, assisted by a very small group of loyal ex-employees. Great to see a book full of strong female characters.

If you enjoy the more ‘gentle’ murder mystery stories, then I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

How It All Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi

Thank you to Readers First and Hot Key books for a copy of this new Young Adult book by a new author to me. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift. The book is published in the UK today.

Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew that coming out to his Muslim family would be messy, but he wasn’t expecting it to end in an airport interrogation room. Now, he’s telling his side of the story to the stern-faced officer.

Amir has to explain why he ran away to Rome (boys, bullies, blackmail) and what he was doing there for a month (dates in the Sistine Chapel, friends who helped him accept who he is, and, of course, drama) . . . all while his mum, dad and little sister are being interrogated in the room next door.

A nuanced take on growing up brown, Muslim and gay in today’s America, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is the story of one boy’s struggle to come out to his family, and how that painful process exists right alongside his silly, sexy romp through Italy.

My thoughts:

I must admit that I enjoyed this book more than I expected after reading some very mixed reviews on Goodreads – this book appears to have created some strong feelings amongst the readers.

The author states at the end of the book that the story behind the story was personal to him. The story flows well, as we discover what happened to Amir after he fled the USA to get away from a teenage blackmailer who had threatened to tell Amir’s family at the school graduation ceremony that Amir was gay.

Amir has a summer of self discovery in Rome whilst his family try to track him down. An interesting read – although personally I didn’t enjoy reading the ‘nipple story’.

I will be passing on my copy to the teenagers I work with and will be interested to hear their thoughts.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Today I’m sharing my review for The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard. Thank you to Corvus Books for a copy of the hardback – I used some of my Readers First points to ‘buy’ this copy.

Synopsis:

I was the girl who survived the Nothing Man.
Now I am the woman who is going to catch him…

You’ve just read the opening pages of The Nothing Man, the true crime memoir Eve Black has written about her obsessive search for the man who killed her family nearly two decades ago.

Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle is reading it too, and with each turn of the page his rage grows. Because Jim was – is – the Nothing Man.

The more Jim reads, the more he realizes how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won’t give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first…

My thoughts:

This is the first book I’ve read by Catherine Ryan Howard, and I’m looking forward to reading more. I was gripped by the first few chapters – what an interesting story idea. Slowly we find out more and more about The Nothing Man and his awful crimes, whilst he finds out what Eve knows and where to find her by reading her book.

The tension built, the pages turned, the list of things to do were ignored. I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling and the story. Apologies for being vague, but this is a no spoilers review.

A five star read for me.

Author Bio:

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Her debut thriller, DISTRESS SIGNALS (2016), was an Irish Times and USA Today bestseller, and was shortlisted for both the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Her second thriller, THE LIAR’S GIRL (2018) was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She currently lives in Dublin, where she divides her time between the desk and the sofa.

#BookReview Only You by Kate Eberlen


One person is all it takes to change a lifetime . . . But how will you know if they’re the one?

Present
Letty and Alf are the only English speakers at an Italian class in Rome, where they discover the language that really connects them is dance: Letty’s first love was ballet, while Alf was a junior ballroom champion. They come from different worlds, until the moment they waltz around the Piazza Navona, and everything changes. 

Past
But one moment can’t change the past, and it’s clear that Alf and Letty still have their secrets. What caused them to leave their lives behind in England? And who, or what, are they running from? As their relationship deepens, it becomes harder and harder to tell the truth…

Future
When the unthinkable happens, Letty returns to London and Alf to Blackpool. Will they spend their lives apart, or discover a future together?

My thoughts:

Thank you to Pan Books and Pan MacMillan for a review copy of this book – my thoughts are my own.

I enjoyed reading the opening chapters via the Readers First website and used my points to get a copy. Thankfully the publisher was still able to send out a copy before the global pandemic shut down most book warehouses.

I read this book when sat in the April sunshine in my garden. Kate Eberlen transported me to Rome, a place I have never actually visited. The detailed descriptions brought Rome to life as Alf and Letty started at the language school and explored Rome. I loved my virtual visit to Rome and hope to visit in the future (and sample some of the delicious food that was mentioned too).

The book is in three parts, the time in Rome, what happened to Alf and to Letty before Rome, and what happens after Rome. The story is well written and covers so many different areas of relationships, covering family dynamics, friendships and romance. I don’t want to give any spoilers – this is a book to relax into and to enjoy the storytelling.

I hadn’t read Kate’s previous book (Miss You), but have added it to my Kindle today. Only You is definitely a 5 star read for me – a book I have talked about to friends and family and that I’m happy to recommend.





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#BookReview Wink by Rob Harrell

Publisher comments:

A wrenching and hilarious story about embracing life’s weirdness and surviving an unthinkable diagnosis, based on the author’s own experience with a rare eye cancer.

Twelve-year-old Ross Maloy just wants to be normal. Not to have a rare eye cancer, not to lose his hair, not to have to wear a weird hat or have a goopy eye full of ointment. Just normal. But with a sudden and horrifying diagnosis, Ross can’t help standing out. His new life is medical treatments that feel straight out of a video game, vision loss in one eye, disappearing friends who don’t know what to say to “the cancer kid,” cruel bullying, and ultimately, friendships new and old that rise above everything.

Just when Ross starts to feel like he’s losing his footing, he discovers how music, art, and true friends can change everything. Filled with Rob Harrell’s comic panels (Batpig for the win!) and spot art, this novel brings effortless humor and hope to an unforgettable, uplifting story of survival. 

My thoughts:

Thank you to Hot Key Books and Readers First for a review copy of this book – my thoughts are my own.

Originally after reading this book I gave a review of 4.5 stars. However after enthusiastically telling friends, family and students about the book, I’ve realised that it deserves 5 stars.

This is a book that deals with some difficult topics with empathy and uses just the right amount of humour. As a mum of teenagers and a learning mentor to 30+ other teenagers, they do want to be ‘normal’ and blend in.

Rob Harrell has produced a book that should be compulsory reading in secondary schools (and for teaching staff). The book examines how we struggle to deal with illness in others, whether they are family, friends or part of our community. Thought provoking and could be used as a conversation starter in English Literature or PSHE classes.




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#Book review The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford

Publisher comments:-

When Fred Lawson takes a summer job on St Kilda in 1927, little does he realise that he has joined the last community to ever live on that desolate, isolated island. Only three years later, St Kilda will be evacuated, the islanders near-dead from starvation. But for Fred, that summer is the bedrock of his whole life…

Chrissie Gillies is just nineteen when the researchers come to St Kilda. Hired as their cook, she can’t believe they would ever notice her, sophisticated and educated as they are. But she soon develops a cautious friendship with Fred, a friendship that cannot be allowed to develop into anything more…

Years later, to help deal with his hellish existence in a German prisoner of war camp, Fred tells the tale of the island and the woman he loved, but left behind. And Fred starts to wonder, where is Chrissie now? And does she ever think of him too?

Being published in March 2020

My thoughts:-

Having enjoyed reading the opening chapters of this book on Readers First, I used my points to ‘buy’ the book.

A few weeks later, as I finished the book, I was glad that I had bought a copy. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction over the years, but none by Elisabeth Gifford so far. I can see that I now need to go and read her previous books.

I enjoyed visiting St Kilda – the detail about the lives of the islanders really brought the island to life. I had no idea about the hardship the people faced – cut off from the world by storms every winter and surviving on very little food. The book looks at different periods in time, including when Chrissie and Fred meet and when Fred is fighting to survive in occupied France.

The book explores young love, jealousy, taking the blame, secrets and the loss of loved ones. Beautifully written, full of interesting details and emotion. One of my favourite books of the year.


The Foundling by Stacey Halls

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb:

Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why. Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

From the bestselling author of The Familiars, and set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, The Foundling explores families, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood

My thoughts:

I have a confession – I still haven’t read The Familiars by Stacey Halls (it is on my Kindle ready to go).

However after seeing great reviews and reading the opening chapters of The Foundling, I decided to use my Readers First points to ‘buy’ a copy of this book. The hardback book is beautiful to look at – a stunning cover design.

The story is based on the true Foundling Hospital in London, set up to help children who had parents unable to care for them. From the opening chapter, when a young woman asks to give up her baby born just hours earlier, we are transported back in time to 1747 to watch the baby lottery.

The descriptions of Georgian London are of two different worlds – the rich and the very poor. The story is told from the view of both main characters and we are slowly drip fed information to help explain what happened after the visit to the Foundling Hospital.

I’m happy to recommend the book – one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read. Thank you to Readers First and Manilla Press for my copy.



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