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.


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.


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?

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. 

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…

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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A stranger on the beach by Michele Campbell (Paperback publication day)

A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“From the bestselling author of It’s Always the Husband comes a novel about a love triangle that begins on a fateful night… There is a stranger outside Caroline’s house. Her spectacular new beach house, built for hosting expensive parties and vacationing with the family she thought she’d have. But her husband is lying to her and everything in her life is upside down, so when the stranger, Aidan, shows up as a bartender at the same party where Caroline and her husband have a very public fight, it doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. As her marriage collapses around her and the lavish lifestyle she’s built for herself starts to crumble, Caroline turns to Aidan for comfort…and revenge. After a brief and desperate fling that means nothing to Caroline and everything to him, Aidan’s obsession with Caroline, her family, and her house grows more and more disturbing. And when Caroline’s husband goes missing, her life descends into a nightmare that leaves her accused of her own husband’s murder.

My thoughts:-

Wow – this was the thriller that kept me guessing until the very end.

I had read the opening chapters on the Readers First website and was intrigued. So I was thrilled to receive a review copy from HQ Fiction.

Caroline is the posh wife of a financier, with a place in the city and the new beach house with a husband who is lying to her. Aidan is a local boy, whose granddad had a small place on the beach which is now replaced by Caroline’s massive beach house.

Caroline and Aiden have a one night stand which was meant to be fun but then the story becomes sinister – Aiden is falling for Caroline whilst Caroline is scared by his infatuation. I found the use of showing the two sides of the story slightly confusing to start with but this certainly built up the suspense. I didn’t know who to believe (Aidan v Caroline) – I recommend that you read it to find out. I read this late into the night to find out the answers – couldn’t fall asleep until I knew.

The author:

Michele Campbell is a graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York City who specialized in international narcotics and gang cases. 

A while back, she said goodbye to her big-city legal career and moved with her husband and two children to an idyllic New England college town a lot like Belle River in IT’S ALWAYS THE HUSBAND. Since then, she has spent her time teaching criminal and constitutional law and writing novels. 

She’s had many close female friends, a few frenemies, and only one husband, who – to the best of her knowledge – has never tried to kill her.

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The Pact by Amy Heydenrych (Publication on 28/11/19)

The Pact

The Pact by Amy Heydenrych

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb:

What if a prank leads to murder? 

When Freya arrives at her dream job with the city’s hottest start-up, she can’t wait to begin a new and exciting life, including dating her new colleague Jay. However, Nicole, Jay’s ex and fellow employee, seems intent on making her life a misery. 

After a big deadline, where Nicole continually picks on her, Freya snaps and tells Jay about the bullying and together they concoct a revenge prank. The next morning, Nicole is found dead in her apartment . . . 

Is this just a prank gone wrong? Or does Freya know someone who is capable of murder – and could she be next?

My thoughts:-

Thank you to Readers First and Zaffre Books for a review copy – my thoughts are my own. This is the first book I have read by Amy Heydenrych.

A great opening – Freya and Jay have played a prank on their colleague Nicole – next day she is found dead.

This is a book that goes backwards and forwards in time, following Atypical employee Freya and journalist Isla. Atypical sounds like an amazing place to work until you start to wonder if it is too good to be true.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away – I had a few suspects in mind through the story, and did in fact wonder if X was the murderer only to talk myself out of this idea.

The book includes dealing with bullying in the workplace (for both Freya and Isla), a lack of HR support and online dating apps. Having worked in a happy workplace which quickly became toxic due to a change at the top, I recognised how paranoia leads staff to wonder who is safe to talk to.

I have seen a mixture of reviews for this book but I really enjoyed this book, finding it to be well written and sleep depriving – I didn’t want to stop reading without finding out ‘who did it’.

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