Monday, 26 February 2018

The Year that Changed Everything - Cathy Kelly

Three women celebrate their birthdays . . . 30. 40. 50. But their milestone birthdays mark the start of a year that will change everything . . .
Ginger isn't spending her 30th the way she would have planned. Tonight might be the first night of the rest of her life - or a total disaster.
Sam is finally pregnant after years of trying. When her waters break on the morning of her 40th birthday, she panics: forget labour, how is she going to be a mother?
Callie is celebrating her 50th at a big party in her Dublin home. Then a knock at the door mid-party turns her perfect life upside down . . .
Full of warmth and wisdom, this is a story about finding happiness on your own terms from international bestseller Cathy Kelly.

What did I think?

I love Cathy Kelly books, they always make me feel warm and squidgy inside; but they're not all sunshine and rainbows, as the characters have to go through some tough times to come out the other side stronger and happier.  Cathy's writing is as bubbly and effervescent as a bottle of Prosecco so I couldn't wait to get stuck into her new novel: The Year that Changed Everything and I positively whizzed through it as fast as a cork shooting out of a bottle.

Three women, unknown to each other, celebrate milestone birthdays on the same day and it's certainly a day they will never forget: Callie is 50 and her house is raided by the fraud squad as she is hosting her birthday party, Sam is 40 and goes into labour on her birthday, and Ginger is 30 but selflessly spends the day celebrating her friend's wedding rather than her birthday.  All three characters are strong and unforgettable with the common thread of unconditional family love running through their stories. 

I really identified with Ginger and felt my jaw drop when I read a line about her not wearing heels to comply with the unfeminine persona she had created to protect herself from heartbreak.  Although I do wear flat shoes because I have a problem with my back, there are occasions where I could wear heels but refrain from doing so.  I asked myself why and the honest answer is that I believe I'm not attractive enough to wear heels, so why would I want to draw attention to myself?  I reminded myself that beauty is in the eye of the beholder so treated myself to a new pair of heels.  Not plain black, oh no, but sparkly Wizard of Oz style 'look at me' heels.  Gulp!  Thank you for giving me the courage to buy my fabulous new shoes, Cathy Kelly.  I will need to summon my inner Ginger to have the courage to wear them!

There are quite a few pearls of wisdom in The Year that Changed Everything that I could liken Cathy Kelly to my personal Dalai Lama; I certainly felt unexpectedly enlightened by some of the passages in the book.  Take the quote that Joanne gave to her sister, Sam, for example:
You can't change other people: you can only change how you react to them.
So simple, yet so very true.  I'm definitely going to remember this and repeat it like my personal mantra.  I admit that I'm not a people person, so people do often annoy me but I'm going to practise changing my reaction to them.

The Year that Changed Everything is a fabulous, unexpectedly enlightening book that did more for me than any self-help book has ever done.  The warm and effervescent writing of Cathy Kelly will make this a firm favourite among her many fans, myself included.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Saturday, 24 February 2018

With the End in Mind - Kathryn Mannix

In this unprecedented book, palliative medicine pioneer Dr Kathryn Mannix explores the biggest taboo in our society and the only certainty we all share: death.

Told through a series of beautifully crafted stories taken from nearly four decades of clinical practice, her book answers the most intimate questions about the process of dying with touching honesty and humanity. She makes a compelling case for the therapeutic power of approaching death not with trepidation but with openness, clarity and understanding.
With the End in Mind is a book for us all: the grieving and bereaved, ill and healthy. Open these pages and you will find stories about people who are like you, and like people you know and love. You will meet Holly, who danced her last day away; Eric, the retired head teacher who, even with Motor Neurone Disease, gets things done; loving, tender-hearted Nelly and Joe, each living a lonely lie to save their beloved from distress; and Sylvie, 19, dying of leukaemia, sewing a cushion for her mum to hug by the fire after she has died.
These are just four of the book’s thirty-odd stories of normal humans, dying normal human deaths. They show how the dying embrace living not because they are unusual or brave, but because that’s what humans do. By turns touching, tragic, at times funny and always wise, they offer us illumination, models for action, and hope. Read this book and you’ll be better prepared for life as well as death.

What did I think?

I'd heard a lot about With the End in Mind so I was thrilled to win a copy in a Goodreads giveaway.  I like to read a non-fiction book now and again, and what a great choice this was.  It is the perfect book to dip in and out of, in fact I recommend reading only one chapter at a time.  This way you can fully appreciate each story as, the way it is so warmly written by Kathryn Mannix, each person is brought to life so magnificently that I needed a few moments to get over the pain of their loss as their chapter ended.

Before reading, I didn't realise that Kathryn Mannix was a consultant at the RVI in Newcastle, but there were little regional hints in the book that led me to google her.  The warmth, vigour and resilience of the North Easteners is evident in the book as we read about some amazing people who Kathryn has helped as they commenced their final journey.  The writing is so soothing, warm and respectful that it easily draws you into each person's story and I felt so honoured to get a glimpse into such personal moments in a person's life.  

Although it is a difficult subject, as nobody wants to admit their own mortality, With the End in Mind is very easy to read and takes the fear out of dying.  The book is written in 6 sections: Patterns, My Way, Naming Death, Looking Beyond the Now, Legacy and Transcendence.  Within each section there are some very imaginative, often musical, chapter titles and I take my hat off to Kathryn Mannix for coming up with them.  Each section starts with an introduction, then there are a few stories of actual cases before the section finishes off with Pause for Thought, leaving us with a thought-provoking summary.

I don't know about you, but when I think of death I imagine gasping for breath and feeling pain before suddenly expiring, but now I know that is not the case.  It's a sobering and emotional book; I read some stories with tears rolling down my face but not necessarily with sadness as I couldn't help but smile at the strength and character of the wonderful people in the book.  Kathryn Mannix has written a very fitting testament to so many remarkable people and has taught me not to be afraid of saying the 'D' word.

With the End in Mind is a recommended read for people of all ages, religions and beliefs.  I'm not going to part with my copy, it is a book I can see myself turning to for comfort when I need it, but also to read the amazing stories again when I need a little boost of strength or courage.  Although death is not everyone's preferred reading matter, I urge you to read this outstanding book which, to me, is more about the amazing gift of life than the finality of death.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

BLOG TOUR: Hiding - Jenny Morton Potts

Even before I was invited to read a review copy, I had earmarked Hiding by Jenny Morton Potts as a book I definitely wanted to read this year.  There was something so very alluring and mesmerising about the cover: the unsuspecting lone woman and the hypnotising eyes of the man who has her in his sights, who I have to say looks rather dishy.

So I leapt at the chance to join the blog tour and I am delighted to share my review of this spectacular book, along with your chance to win an e-book for yourself.

A gripping psychological thriller with chilling twists, from a unique new voice.  

Keller Baye and Rebecca Brown live on different sides of the Atlantic. Until she falls in love with him, Rebecca knows nothing of Keller. But he’s known about her for a very long time, and now he wants to destroy her.

This is the story of two families. One living under the threat of execution in North Carolina. The other caught up in a dark mystery in the Scottish Highlands. The families’ paths are destined to cross. But why? And can anything save them when that happens?

What did I think?

Hiding draws you in immediately with two very strong and intriguing main characters: Rebecca Brown and Keller Baye.  The reader is catapulted into such pivotal points in each character's life that it made me sit up and take notice, rubbing my hands in glee, at such juicy bait dangling from the line cast by Jenny Morton Potts.  Now that's what I call hooked from the start.

Rebecca's story starts in 2007 when she becomes an orphan along with her older siblings: brother, Austen, and sister, Colette.  When their parents are killed in a car crash they are sent to live with grandparents in Scotland at the family home called Taransay, or The Orphanage as the siblings refer to it.  As Rebecca gets older she wants to know what happened to her parents but her family won't talk about it.  Why?  What are they hiding?

Fast forward to the not too distant future of 2021 and Keller Baye is heading to the prison to watch his father be put to death by lethal injection.  Keller is already severely damaged as his time spent living with his cruel Aunt Joya has made him into the man he is today.  The event that started all this was the moment his father shot a man in a failed bank robbery and now Keller is out for revenge.

The development of both main characters in Hiding is exceptional.  I felt like I could see inside their heads and know what they were thinking and how they were feeling.  I actually felt so sorry for both of them as they seemed so unhappy with their lives that they invent a new persona to escape who they really are.  Rebecca reinvents herself as a comedian after a life spent feeling as if she didn't belong, her family has even taken her name away as they refer to her as 'Youngest Brown'.  It might seem affectionate to them but I felt like it stole her identity.  Meanwhile, Keller becomes quite the charmer with the ladies but he is not as controlled as Rebecca as his emotions can change at the flick of a switch.

I was wondering what the link was between Rebecca and Keller from the start and after some nicely built suspense, the pieces all start falling into place.  The title of the book is woven so cleverly into the story, meaning very different things for Rebecca and Keller, but ultimately every character is Hiding something. 

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Hiding; it is so intriguing and compelling that I lost track of time while I was reading (I could have easily read it in one sitting if I'd picked it up on a weekend rather than a work night).  Reading Hiding is like doing a jigsaw; you have all of the pieces but you can't see the full picture until the final piece is slotted into place.   Hiding is an exceptional book that hooked me from the start and kept me riveted throughout; a well-deserved five stars.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author

Jenny is a novelist, screenplay writer and playwright. After a series of 'proper jobs', she realised she was living someone else's life and escaped to Gascony to make gîtes. Knee deep in cement and pregnant, Jenny was happy. Then autism and a distracted spine surgeon wiped out the order. Returned to wonderful England, to write her socks off. 

Jenny would like to see the Northern Lights but worries that’s the best bit and should be saved till last. Very happily, and gratefully, settled with family. 

She tries not to take herself too seriously.

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Friday, 16 February 2018

Jenson Button: Life to the Limit: My Autobiography - Jenson Button

Jenson Button is one of the greatest racing drivers of his generation. His seventeen years in Formula 1 have seen him experience everything the sport has to offer, from nursing underpowered cars around the track to winning World Championships and everything in between.

Here, Jenson tells his full story for the first time in his own honest, intelligent and eloquent style. From growing up as part of a motor-racing-mad family under the guidance of his father, John, to arriving at Williams as a fresh-faced 20 year-old, to being written off by some as a playboy and his fight back to the very pinnacle of his sport. Jenson's World Championship victory for the unsponsored and unfancied Brawn GP team is one of the most extraordinary against-the-odds sports stories of the century.

Jenson's book lifts the lid on the gilded and often hidden world of Formula 1. He reveals his relationships with some of the biggest names in Formula 1- Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso as well some of the most colourful characters like Bernie Ecclestone, Ron Dennis, Frank Williams and serial winner Ross Brawn. Above all, he puts you right inside the cockpit, in the driving seat, travelling at over 200 miles per hour, battling the fear of death, showing you what happens when it goes wrong at high speed and allowing you to experience the euphoria of crossing the line first.

What did I think?

I've followed Formula 1 since 1997 so I'm fortunate to have seen the whole of Jenson Button's F1 career on my TV screen.  As a rookie F1 fan, I took a shining to Williams as Sir Frank is a sanddancer, like myself, and the first F1 t-shirt I ever bought had a fresh-faced young British guy on it (see picture below).  The guy was Jenson Button and I am proud to call myself a fan.

I was so excited to see that JB had written his autobiography and I would have cut my arm off for a signed copy but alas the great man didn't make his way to the chilly North East of England.  Thankfully, Amazon delivered on release day and I had my treasured (unsigned) book in my greedy hands.

What stood out straight away for me was Jenson's amazing sense of humour.  That smile we know so well is woven into each page of this book as we relive the highs and lows of his life so far.  I honestly didn't expect to laugh so much at what is in essence the same joke, namely the many mispronunciations of 'Jenson'.  Hopefully the world champion doesn't have this problem any more!

Key races are replayed through Jenson's eyes, including one of my favourites: Canada 2011.  The writing is so vivid that you can clearly see the race in your mind and I felt my heart racing as the chequered flag approached, even though I knew that JB had won!

The book is also interspersed with photographs of Jenson's life and career, including my favourite, the iconic image of Jenson's first ever Grand Prix win in Hungary 2006:

It's perfectly balanced with the highs and lows.  Wouldn't we all love to forget those awful Honda years?  Only somebody as naturally talented as Jenson Button could bounce back in such style and go on to win a world championship.  Although naturally talented, we know that money talks in F1 and I felt as if JB has had to fight for every race seat.  It saddens me to think that money trumps talent but I am delighted to see that sometimes hard work pays off and dreams can come true.

No review of this book would be complete without talking about Papa Smurf, John Button, who was as much a part of an F1 weekend as the drivers themselves.  His support and love for Jenson is immortalised in print and I finally understood JB's reasons for leaving the sport.

Life to the Limit is an entertaining, candid and emotional account of an outstanding racing career that no F1 fan should miss.   Thank you for sharing your life, memories and special moments with us, Jenson.  On to the next chapter...

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

BLOG TOUR: A Library Miscellany - Claire Cock-Starkey

I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for this fabulous little book: A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey.  I've previously read and thoroughly enjoyed The Book Lovers' Miscellany and you can read my review here.

What can be found in the Vatican's Secret Archive? How many books did Charles Darwin's library aboard the Beagle hold? Which library is home to a colony of bats? 

Bursting with potted histories, quirky facts and enlightening lists, this book explores every aspect of the library, celebrating not only these remarkable institutions but also the individuals behind their awe-inspiring collections. 

From the ancient library at Alexandria to the Library of Congress in Washington DC, A Library Miscellany explores institutions both old and new, from the university library to that of the humble village. It opens the door to unusual collections such as herbaria, art libraries, magic libraries and even the library of smells, and charts the difficulties of cataloguing books deemed to be subversive, heretical, libellous or obscene. 

Packed with unusual facts and statistics, this is the perfect volume for library enthusiasts, bibliophiles and readers everywhere.


I haven't had time to read and review A Library Miscellany but I have something even better for you today: an extract from the book itself.  As someone who is interested in the RMS Titanic, I am delighted to share the extract about the two libraries aboard this iconic ill-fated ocean liner.

You can buy a copy of the book from Amazon UK here and you can find out more about the author on her website and by following her on Twitter @nonfictioness 

For those of you lucky enough to be in the Oxford area on March 20th 2018, you can hear Claire Cock-Starkey talking about A Library Miscellany (and The Book Lovers' Miscellany) at Oxford Literary Festival on March 20th at 12pm - click here to find out more.

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Monday, 12 February 2018

BLOG TOUR: False Prophet - Richard Davis

As the third book in the Saul Marshall series is imminent (yay!), I am delighted to take part in the False Prophet blog tour.  I am re-posting my review for the tour but make sure that you check out all of the other stops on the tour to read all of the great reviews.

When a rogue cult turns deadly, the authorities call on former conman Agent Saul Marshall. Drawn into a cat and mouse chase with the leader of the cult Ivan Drexler, news arrives that he has taken Marshall’s son hostage. Removed from the line of duty, Marshall must work alone, off-grid.

As the attacks intensify, Saul will stop at nothing to defeat Drexler. But people are questioning Saul’s own part in the carnage. He must work fast to save both his country and his son. 

As wave after wave of attacks break, the clock is ticking...

What did I think?

I took far too long to get around to reading False Prophet but once I started to read it, I really couldn't put it down and it turned out to be a very quick, riveting read.  Saul Marshall is such a multi-faceted character; he's a con-man turned FBI agent so he knows more than most how the criminal mind works, basically because he has a criminal mind himself. 

The prologue will not fail to hook every single reader that turns the first page of False Prophet.  Imagine sitting down to breakfast with your morning newspaper and seeing your obituary in the paper.  That's what happened to Aaron Woolf, who then received a phone call from his missing son rapidly followed by masked men entering his apartment to stage his apparent suicide.  Saul Marshall has something in common with Aaron Woolf; his son, Samuel, has gone missing too.  As Saul races to save his son, he uncovers something bigger than he could ever have imagined.

False Prophet is an absolutely stonking first thriller from Richard Davis and a fast-paced rollercoaster of a read; I think I held my breath several times during the book and almost forgot to breathe at the heart-stopping finale.  It certainly gets you thinking as the story links to the 20th anniversary of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the 40th anniversary of the 1973 failed bomb plot codenamed Tribomb.  It's a brilliant idea, and one probably very true to life, to have a false prophet using religion to 'cash in' on the jihadi mentality of willing suicide bombers.  Are these islamic militants really any different to religious cult leaders?

With a character as strong and flawed as Saul Marshall, Richard Davis is definitely on to a winner here.  I was so eager to read more of Saul's story that I immediately went on to read the next book in the series, Never Forget.

I chose to read to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

About the author:

Richard Davis graduated from University College London in 2011 and Cambridge University in 2012.

The Saul Marshall series was born from Davis’s extensive travels around the United States and his long-standing obsession with thriller fiction.

He lives in North London, UK, with his girlfriend.

If you want to know more you can find Richard on Twitter @DickDavisDavis

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Sunday, 11 February 2018

BLOG TOUR: Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves - Rachel Malik

When Rene Hargreaves is billeted to Starlight Farm as a Land Girl, far from the city where she grew up, she finds farmer Elsie Boston and her country ways strange at first. Yet over the days and months Rene and Elsie come to understand and depend on each other. Soon they can no longer imagine a life apart.

But a visitor from Rene's past threatens the life they have built together, a life that has always kept others at a careful distance. Soon they are involved in a war of their own that endangers everything and will finally expose them to the nation's press and the full force of the law.

What did I think?

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a beautiful, gentle story with characters who were real people, in fact Miss Hargreaves is the author's maternal grandmother.  I love stories that have a nugget of truth in them, however small the nugget may be.  Rachel Malik came up with the idea for the book when she decided to find out more information about the elusive Miss Hargreaves, and what a beautiful story she has created from so very little information.  Aside from the few facts stated in the Historical Note, we are reminded that Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is ultimately a work of fiction.

I found it a refreshing change to have a book set during World War II which shows us the war from the perspective of the farmers and the countryside.  There are no bombs and air raid shelters, although they might see a passing aircraft that has veered off course.  With the men away to war, help on the land arrived in the form of land girls.  Rene Hargreaves is allocated to Starlight Farm, owned by Elsie Boston.  The pair get on so well that they naturally become good friends, but Rene is weighed down by secrets that threaten her new life in the countryside.  We all know that secrets don't stay hidden for long in books, and Rene is about to see some devastating consequences when her past and present collide.

Like life in the country, the pacing is quite slow so it did take me a while to get into the book.  I think it really livened up when Ernest came to live with the ladies, although he was like a naughty child leaving his sticky fingerprints everywhere.  It did make me chuckle imagining him eating and drinking Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves out of house and home.

The whole story becomes more poignant when you read the Historical Note at the end as Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves evolve from 'characters' to 'people'.  I didn't know until I read this that it was based on real people and it certainly made me pause for thought at the turn of events in the book.  I think this would make a great book to ponder over with friends at book club; the quality of Rachel Malik's writing is very impressive, she has such an amazing attention to detail that enables her to draw beautiful pictures with her words.  Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is a  beautiful, moving and impeccable debut.

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy it from Amazon

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