Book Review – Mine by @kellyflorentia published by @bloodhoundbook

“I remained too much inside my head and ended up losing my mind” ––Edgar Allan Poe

This is Kelly Florentia’s fourth novel (read my fab interview with her here) and first psychological thriller. It is also a first for me by this author, and as a huge fan of the genre, I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. Easy to read, intense, and full of twists and turns, ‘Mine’ will keep you gripped from start to finish.

The story opens with a prologue; the voice of the narrator, anonymous, says, “I know what you did and you have to pay. All I’ve got to do is figure out a way to get rid of you. For good”.

Chapter one then introduces us to Lucy Harper, the main protagonist; endearing, suspicious, and at times quite gullible. Reeling from her recent divorce to ex-husband, Andrew, who left her for her long-time school friend, Jasmine, Lucy relies a little too heavily on alcohol to get by, which often clouds her judgement and makes her recall unreliable. She wakes from an evening out unable to remember how she got home, and worse still, who the man in her bed is. He seems pleasant enough, and as he replays their boozy night back to her, Lucy slowly but surely remembers who he is; Teddy Fallon, the new gardener of her best friend Alison, who, with the help of her mother, Karen, set the pair up on a blind date. Teddy is keen to meet again, Lucy less so. However, when Lucy receives an anonymous text message, including a photo, accusing her of something she’s sure she didn’t do, her life begins to spiral, setting off a chain of events that sees her shunned by her friends and suspicious of everyone around her. The texts keep coming with the emphasis on blackmail, and the only person Lucy can confide in, the only person who seems to believe her, is mild-mannered Teddy, but even that’s questionable at times.

Full of believable, well rounded characters, ‘Mine’ is a gripping, fast-paced debut thriller that will see you turning the pages long into the night. I did figure out the final reveal, however, guessing the ending didn’t make reading this fab novel any less thrilling. On the contrary, it is full of so many intriguing revelations and surprises, I often found myself doubting my hunches as much as poor Lucy did.

Book Review – Foyles Philavery by Christopher Foyle Published by Chambers; Reprint edition (27 July 2007)

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine” –Emily Dickinson

This month, I thought I’d choose something a little different to review. A book that has been in my possession for a number of years and is the perfect companion for all writers and budding writers alike. Scrabble players too, would love this. Anyone, in fact, that like me, has a fascination with words.

Foyle’s Philavery (pronounced fil-a-vuh-ri), a word invented to describe the book, is, according to the introduction, “an idiosyncratic collection of uncommon and pleasing words”. Written by Christopher Foyle; businessman, philanthropist and writer, who took over the running Foyles, the eponymous family bookshop in 1999, first began making a note of unusual words in 1990. This was around the time of the first Gulf War when US commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, described information he deemed of no value as, ‘bovine scatology’. Not familiar with the latter word, I quickly thumbed the relevant page for its meaning, which immediately saw me laughing out loud. Simply put, bovine scatology is another, more sophisticated way of saying, stupid crap!

Some of my favourite words include, samizdat, which (in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe) means “the clandestine copying and distribution of writings banned by the government”. Then there’s scriptorium, which is “a room set apart for writing”. And finally, kakistocracy, which, feeling particularly relevant at this present time, stands for, “a system of government in which the rulers are the least competent, least qualified or most unprincipled citizens”.

This treasury of unusual, quirky and obscure words is a pure delight. It’s not the kind of book you’ll read in one sitting, but rather one you’ll be drawn to time and again. A must have for all word lovers.

Book Review – My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Published by @4thEstateBooks #MyDark Vanessa #BookReview

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse” –Edmund Burke

Disturbing, compelling, and haunting are just a few words I’d use to describe My Dark Vanessa, which as the title suggests is a dark tale, concerning abuse. Set in and around Maine in the US, and recounted across two timelines, this is the story of 15-year-old Vanessa Wye’s love affair with her 42-year-old high school English teacher, Jacob Strane. At least, that’s how Vanessa prefers to remember it. What it really is, of course, is the complex story of a young girl who was targeted and groomed by an older man.

The opening chapter begins in 2017. Vanessa is in her early 30s and disillusioned with life and masks her disappointment by smoking too much pot and drinking too much alcohol. She discovers, via social media, that a former pupil from a private school she once attended has publicly accused her former English teacher of abuse, making Vanessa reconsider what she believes was the great love affair of her life. “When Strane and I met [she says], I was fifteen and he was forty-two. A near perfect thirty years between us. That’s how I described the difference back then––perfect.”

As the story unravels, we flit back and forth in time between Vanessa as she is now and Vanessa as she was before; a young, impressionable, lonely schoolgirl with a burgeoning crush on her charismatic teacher. Sadly though, Vanessa struggles to accept she was abused, convinced her relationship with Strane was “different”. However, the author uses Vanessa’s heightened sense of uniqueness to show the reader what it feels like to be groomed. How Strane uses Vanessa’s vulnerability to his advantage by telling her she’s “special” and how, like him, she is a “dark romantic”.

Brilliantly written, tragically sad, and emotively dark. My Dark Vanessa makes for an uneasy, troubling, but insightful and compulsive read.

Book Review – Little Disasters by @SVaughanAuthor published by @simonschusterUK

“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had… and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed” –Linda Wooten

Having read and loved Sarah Vaughan’s 3rd novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, which is currently being filmed as a Netflix series with an all-star cast including Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery and Rupert Friend, I couldn’t wait to read this, the author’s 4th novel.

I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint.

The author’s skilful and emotive storytelling immediately drew me in, reminding me of my own early days as a mother. How exhausting and overwhelming it can sometimes feel – “The cry builds. At first it is pitiful… Tentative, tremulous, just testing how it will be received… cranks up a gear as she draws the baby close… her eyes well[ing] with self-pity and frustration and an exhaustion so entrenched she is sometimes knocked off balance”.

The two main protagonists of this taut thriller are Jess, a mother of three, including her infant daughter Betsey, and her best friend Liz, also a mum and senior registrar of paediatrics at their local London hospital. From the outside looking in, Jess gives the impression of being the perfect stay at home mum. However, when she arrives at the hospital A&E department with Betsey, who appears to have suffered some sort of head trauma, Liz is both concerned and confused by her friend’s behaviour. Jess, who doesn’t seem particularly worried about her baby girl, is aloof, detached, which Liz knows is completely out of character for Jess. Liz wants to help her friend but when she questions Jess about what happened and Jess refuses to open up, Liz starts to fear the worst. She knows she has a duty of care towards Betsey, but she also knows that her next decision could have a huge impact on both on Jess and her family, and their friendship.  

Little Disasters is a tense, thought-provoking thriller that cleverly and considerately explores the complexities of early motherhood and post-natal anxiety. However, it is also a story about friendship. About the public facade we often hide behind, and how, wrapped up in our own lives and our perception of others, a cry for help can go unnoticed… sometimes with devastating consequences.

Little Disasters is on sale in Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, and all independent bookstores.

 
It’s also available here at Waterstones and here at WH Smiths.

And click below to get your copy at Amazon.



Book Review – Love Letters of Great Women by Ursula Doyle published by @MacmillanUSA

“I used to look at all these daft girls, marrying the first fellow they thought they could live with. And I suppose I was waiting for the fellow I couldn’t live without” –Nora Doyle 1917-2007

Well folks, Valentine’s Day, universally recognised as a celebration of romance and love, is just around the corner. So, with that in mind, my book choice this month makes for the perfect read, not to mention a great gift idea.

Covering a multitude of famous women, including queens, writers, artists and politicians from 1399 up to WWI, this beautiful volume begins with a brief history of each letter writer, reminding us of not just the era they lived in but also the social restrictions they often encountered and how “affairs of the heart could irrevocably alter the course of woman’s life in a way they did not a man’s”. Take, for instance, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letter to her beloved, whom she was planning to elope with against her father’s wishes, “I tremble for what we are doing. Are you sure you will love me forever? Shall we never repent? I fear, and I hope”. Her fear is obvious and her anxiety palpable, almost jumping off the page. However, like so many other heart-felt letters in this lovely collection, there are also examples of passionate longing and desire, while others still reveal true heartbreak and despair. Particularly Queen Victoria’s letter to the King of the Belgians shortly after the death of her beloved Albert, “My life as a happy one is ended! The world is gone for me!” Yet, the common thread throughout this book reveals women of great emotional strength whose belief in love is unwavering.

My verdict…

This beautiful hardback edition of Love Letters of Great Women is the companion to Love Letters of Great Men and a must read for hopeless romantics and history lovers alike. A delightful compendium that also serves as a timely reminder (especially in this digital age of quick-fire texting and emailing, no longer given to letter writing by hand) of just how beautiful the written word is. And how, in the wonderful words of writer Phyllis Grissim-Theroux, “to send a letter is a good way to go somewhere, without moving anything but your heart”.

Book Review – The Lion Tamer Who Lost by @LouiseWriter published by @OrendaBooks

‘Be careful what you wish for, you’ll probably get it.’ –Proverb

My first book review this year is the wonderful, The Lion Tamer Who Lost, by the lovely Louise Beech. Written in the third person, this is an inspiring, albeit tragic love story set in the searing heat of Zimbabwe alongside the grey skies of Hull (England). Two distinct but contrasting landscapes. Both beautiful in their own way, but both harbingers of secrets, including some, as the story unfolds, better left unsaid. However, such secrets serve as a reminder of the yin and yang of life, and of what the harshness and tenderness of being human teaches us.

The two main protagonists are Andrew and Ben. Andrew is a writer, an occupation the author uses to tell a story within a story (mise en abyme), with each chapter beginning with an excerpt from Andrew’s book, which I found both clever and intriguing. Andrew, we learn, made a childhood wish, which he keeps in a silver box. However, when his wish eventually comes true, it isn’t in the way he’d hoped. Ben, on the other hand, is a student. Noticeably younger and less mature than Andrew, he nurtures a childhood dream to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. But when Ben’s dream comes true, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined.

The Lion Tamer Who Lost is a sensitively written, thought provoking, emotive love story with a twist. Both the major and minor characters are well drawn and believable and, like most of us, are all wonderfully flawed and beautifully human, including Ben’s Dad, whom I really didn’t warm to at first, but later changed my mind. Although complex at times, ultimately, this is a simple story of love and loss, of courage and despair and a timely reminder of both the fragility and strength of life. A book I highly recommend.

You can find The Lion Tamer Who Lost here on Amazon

Book Review –The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by @charliemackesy published by @EburyPublishing

“Sometimes,” said the horse.

“Sometimes what?” asked the boy

“Sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent.”

Well folks, we’re well into December. The final month of what can only be described as an interesting year! However, before we say goodbye and good riddance to 2020 let’s not forget, for those of us that celebrate it, Christmas is fast approaching. Therefore, this month, unlike previous years when I’ve read and reviewed some very lovely Christmas themed stories, I thought I’d take a look at something different. Something simple yet poignant, and something that, if you’re looking for gift ideas for the book lovers in your life––whatever the age of the recipient––might just be the perfect solution because, unlike most books, this one is both ageless and timeless.

As the title suggests, this beautifully illustrated hardback is a tale about a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse, with the author and artist being one and the same. For younger readers it’s easy to follow the journey of these four very different friends, sometimes across great mountainous landscapes or beneath vast star-studded skies. While at other times they venture into the darkness, or attempt to navigate the clouds, and at others still, the focus is on the simple joy of eating cake. For older readers, however, I see this more as a collection of unassuming, yet inspiring quotes. Especially during moments of uncertainty and self-doubt, particularly during these troubled and ambiguous times, reminding us that, no matter how dire or dark things might seem, when observed through the eyes of The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, we know there is always love, hope, and friendship.

Five Big Stars from me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Merry Christmas everyone, and remember, “Being kind to yourself is one of the greatest kindnesses”.

Book Review–F*ck, That’s Delicious: An annotated Guide to Eating Well by @ActionBronson and @rachelwharton Published by @ABRAMSbooks

“Food has been a part of my life, always.”

I can safely say this cookbook is, without a doubt, unlike any other I have read or reviewed before. Written by Ariyan Arslan, better known by the stage name Action Bronson––an American rapper, writer, chef, and television presenter—this unique cookbook was a birthday gift to my son from my daughter, partly inspired by his love of rap music but mostly because of his recent interest in cooking. He was thrilled when he received it and immediately took to the kitchen to try his hand at one of the recipes, which I have to say looked and smelled remarkably good.

Born to an American Jewish mother and an Albanian Muslim father, Bronson—described in the foreword as a “dude that looks like a cross between Godzilla, a handsome 1950s movie star from Europe, and a cult Mexican wrestler”—grew up in a small two-bedroomed apartment in Queens, New York, with his parents and grandparents. Home life, he says, was hectic, but always filled with love and the smell of good cooking. His grandmother, or nonna, who the book is dedicated to, would often bake three times a day, and it’s clear her love of food rubbed off on her grandson.

However, unlike standard cookbooks, this one is not just a compilation of illustrated recipes, of which there are a number, ranging from bagels to pizza, burgers to opihi, and bebidas to coffee cake, it is also jam-packed with pages of Bronson’s tours and travel, as well as some of his favourite eateries, both locally and around the world. But be warned… if you’re looking for healthy food, you won’t find it here. These recipes are all about flavour. Sprinkled with wit, swearing, and humorous back-stories (as well as a whole page dedicated to toothpicks), this colourful culinary journal is the perfect gift for all rap music and foodie enthusiasts alike.

You can purchase your copy below on Amazon

Book Review – The Lies We Hide by @SELynesAuthor @bookouture

“The truth can set you free, or make you a prisoner”

Susie Lynes is fast becoming my “go to” author for a guaranteed page turning read. The Lies We Hide, the third book I’ve read by this brilliant writer, didn’t disappoint.

Years ago, I worked for a short time at a Women’s Refuge, covering their ‘out of hours’ phone rota on a voluntary basis when I left, which I continued to do for a number of years. It was a sobering experience and one of the main reasons that drew me to this story. The author’s note explains how the seeds for this cautionary tale were sown way back in the 80s when she was a reporter for the BBC and was given an assignment to look into domestic violence. She visited a refuge to interview two women who had fled the abuse of their husbands. One of them explained how her husband had held her under the bathwater, and how she was convinced she was going to die. She vowed to herself, if she survived, she’d leave that night, which she did, taking her two young sons with her. This in turn inspired the author to write The Lies We Hide.

Listed as psychological Literary Fiction, this is a family drama narrated through four main voices, namely Carol, her two children Graham and Nicola, and Richard, a prison chaplain. As stories go it is an uncomfortable read. However, it is written with such compassion and authenticity it’s difficult to put down. This in part is because, rather than just focussing on the day-to-day fear of living with an abusive partner, which the author does chillingly brilliant at times – “his anger [she thinks] will write itself on her body later, invisible ink that reveals its black message by degrees” – she also pans back, showing us the much wider picture. Including the terrible decisions that those affected by domestic violence sometimes choose, or feel forced to make.

When confronted with long-term domestic violence, whether directly on the receiving end of it or simply witnessing and/or hearing it on a day-to-day basis, everyone copes and reacts differently. Carol, an abused wife, will do anything to protect her children. Whereas Graham, Carol’s son becomes, “silent, since speaking was difficult; violent, since no one speaks out against a fist; mean, since kindness got you nowhere”. Later, Graham finds himself in prison for murder, but eventually finds redemption by confessing to Richard, a voluntary chaplain who, it turns out, is struggling with his own demons. Then there is Nicola, Graham’s sister and Carol’s studious daughter. Nicola is younger than her brother, and is therefore less exposed and somewhat shielded from her father’s violence. She chooses a different path to Graham and makes her escape through hard work and education. However, when her mother passes away, Nicola discovers the true extent of the sacrifices made on her behalf. The lengths her mother and brother went to to protect her, enabling her to become the successful city lawyer she eventually becomes – which in part is influenced by her brother’s incarceration.

The lies, in fact, they have hidden from her…  

You can find The Lies We Hide here on Amazon.

Book Review—Live Green: 52 steps for a more sustainable life by Jen Chillingworth Published by @QuadrilleBooks

“Less buying, more doing, less wanting, more enjoying.”

I can’t stand unnecessary waste, or littering, especially plastic. An invention I both love and loathe in equal measure. Cheap and durable it is believed that 8.3 billion metric tonnes of the stuff has been produced during the last 70 years alone, 79 percent of which has been thrown away either into landfill sites or the general environment, including 8 million tonnes into our oceans every year. Estimates suggest that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our seas and 99 percent of all seabirds will have consumed some. For this reason alone I believe we owe it to our planet to act and think a little greener, but not just with plastic but all aspects of our daily life. 

Live Green is a handy sized and thoughtful collection of 52 tips, one for each week of the year, offering ideas about the changes we can make to our home and lifestyle including the reduction and recycling of plastic. It looks at things like cleaning products and the advantages of making your own, and the benefit of mindful shopping and eating green. It also addresses personal care, including how to create a capsule wardrobe and buying vintage, plus some helpful advice on hair care, cosmetics and beauty routines. 

With a fab section at the back containing useful links to other green sources of information and helpful recipe ideas (including a great sloe gin, and a rather lovely sea salt and lemon and lavender body scrub) scattered throughout, Live Greenis an easy to read and beautifully illustrated guide to help start you on your way to a more healthy and eco friendly lifestyle.