Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

April Wrap-Up 2023

It’s been a strange month and I haven’t read very much so I thought I’d share a very quick wrap-up for April. I’ve had a viral infection on top of my usual MS health issues so it’s not been easy to concentrate at all. Basically I had one of those months where all the wheels fell off! I’ve missed blog tours, forgotten publication day posts and have read about half of what I expected to. I also forgot my MOT was due, missed my mobile payment and got locked in a toilet! I felt like a disaster zone. I felt like a really bad blogger too. I hate letting people down, so I had to give myself a stern talking to. Although I know it’s important to keep our obligations and post about the books I’m lucky enough to be sent, there are times when I get overwhelmed and need to give myself a break. Of course I let tour organisers and publicity teams know when I can’t or haven’t met a date or tour asap, but I had to give myself a break. So that’s what I’ll be doing this week, checking through my diary and being realistic about what dates I can meet, and those I will be a little late on. I’m so grateful for all the books I’m sent and I know they’re sent for a reason, but I think it’s ok to sometimes admit to having taken on too much or that everyday life or health has cut into the reading time I usually have. I find that most tour organisers are lovely and kind about these difficulties. I have to remember that I’m not superwoman and I can’t do everything.

Someone Else’s Shoes is the latest novel from Jojo Moyes and follows two very different women as they accidentally end up with each other’s shoes after an accidental bag swap at the spa. One lives in the penthouse of the spa hotel, whereas the other is a print company salesperson who’s using a spa voucher before it runs out. As one woman, in cheap borrowed pumps, finds her life starting to implode the other finds that her borrowed Christian Laboutins are giving her confidence as well as contracts. This is a great look at how the other half live, but also a wonderful tale of female friendship and how powerful the support of other women can be.

Every Happy Family is a great novel about family, but written like a thriller. This is the first time in years that Minnie and Bert have had their three children under one roof for Christmas. Lizzie, Jess and even their eldest son Owen has come over from Australia. However, Owen’s teenage girlfriend Nora is also in the village, organising the clearance and sale of her mother’s house after her death. Owen became estranged from his parents after his break-up from Nora. Would it be wrong to invite her to share Christmas with them? Using flashbacks, the author slowly reveals what happened all those years ago and why the family are still feeling the fallout to this day.

Thirty Days in Paris was a brilliant escapist read where we follow Juliet as she rents a loft apartment in Paris to spend thirty days writing her book. She has been working for years as a ghost writer, but now she wants to write her own story. With an empty nest and newly divorced, she makes her way towards her future. But Juliet has been keeping a secret for the last two decades and she needs to resolve the past, before any more time passes. This is a romantic story, filled with beautiful French food, fashion and all the sights. I found myself quite lost in it’s pages and craving a city break as I turned the final page.

The Gin Palace is the second outing for Tracey Whitwell’s character Tanz who I fell in love with in her first novel The Accidental Medium. Tanz can talk to ghosts, but it’s a gift she didn’t want and she finds their constant chattering exhausting. When she’s offered an acting job in Newcastle, a new image starts to haunt her of an old Gin Palace with a very sinister figure guarding the door. With a little bit of detective work, Tanz starts to piece together the history of the building she’s seeing. The closer she gets though, the sinister figure takes the form of a poltergeist and he’s determined to keep his secrets hidden. He’s used to scaring people away, but he’s never met someone like Tanz before. This is a brilliant series, spooky but modern and seriously funny.

Strange Sally Diamond was an incredible read and another truly original novel from Liz Nugent. Sally can’t understand why people are so upset with her. When she asked her dying father about his final wishes he told her to put him out with the rubbish. So why are people angry that she put his body in the incinerator? Now Sally is in the glare of the village, the national press and has a strange watcher from the other side of the world. She finds out her childhood was not what she thinks, but can she overcome the horrors of that time and live as an independent adult? Maybe make friends, own a house and get a job? Do we ever escape our childhood? This is a brilliant psychological thriller, with a fascinating central character.

My May TBR
Posted in Throwback Thursday

Again Rachel by Marian Keyes

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the brilliant experience of buddy reading with my eldest stepdaughter. I bought her Rachel’s Holiday and this sequel Again, Rachel for Christmas and she decided to read them in her down time from revising for her A’Levels. I realised it would be a great opportunity to share the reading experience together. I finished this on my weekend away and I genuinely found it hard to look up from the story. For the author, the anxiety of revisiting a much loved character must be huge, because I felt it too. I’d kept it on one side for this long because of that anxiety. I loved Rachel and the whole Walsh family and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what happened next. We’re twenty years on from the end of the last book and Rachel is settled, with a job she loves and a happy home. She works as a senior counsellor at The Cloisters – the place where she started her own recovery journey. She owns a beautiful little house and a garden that’s become an unexpected part of her ongoing recovery and mental well-being. She also has a little dog, Crunchie. There’s also a man, Nick Quinliven (known as Quin) who has a penchant for trying new and exciting things from from the latest restaurant to wild swimming and escape rooms. They haven’t said they love each other yet, but he is an important part of her life. Life is great until Rachel hears that Rose Costello has died. Rose was her mother-in-law and although she hasn’t seen her since she and Luke divorced, she does feel an obligation. Should she go to the funeral or not?

Rachel and Luke have never spoken since he left their Brooklyn flat several years ago and cut all contact. I kept thinking what on earth could have separated these two people who really loved each other? Skilfully taking us back and forth in time, Marian Keyes constructs the intervening years as Rachel copes with the unexpected present and the painful past. Rachel’s whole life is upended as she sees Luke for the first time and tries to cope with the emotions of their reunion. However, she’s also plunged deeply into the past and the reasons she and Luke ended. Rachel is emotionally intelligent and knows all about buried trauma, but is surprised when she experiences all of those emotions afresh as if it only happened yesterday. It upsets her equilibrium, but has that sense of calm recovery merely been a front? Rachel hasn’t wilfully deceived others. She’s deceived herself. Is her version of what happened back then even the truth? If given the chance to connect with Luke and unpick their past, should she take it?

Marian Keyes really knows her stuff when it comes to addiction and mental health. It’s always a joy to read her books because they’re so emotionally intelligent. This framework provides so much depth to the characters and their story. Here she shows us a wounded healer, as Rachel struggles through addiction and loss, but still supports clients to achieve psychological change. I love her courage, because anyone who uses their own pain to help others is an incredible human being. I love how Keyes describes group sessions, as Rachel keeps her boundaries and sticks to her script, no matter how strongly she might be identifying with the client or feeling deeply moved by their story. We get to see that conflict in her; as a human being she might want to comfort that person, but as a therapist she must hold back to effect change. She knows that sometimes it’s important to sit with the feelings, to truly feel negative emotions without distractions or outside comfort. They always pass. I loved the wisdom she’s acquired over the years and how she rides to cope with her own trauma the same way.

I was deeply moved by Luke and Rachel’s experience because I’ve been through something similar. It made some parts hard to read, but it was written beautifully and with an accuracy I really appreciated. Keyes offsets the sadness with the usual comic touches, with Walsh family conferences being a great source of humour. All the sisters have their own idiosyncratic characters, causing conflict at times but we know that love is always present. Mrs Walsh is typically overbearing and contrary and her upcoming ‘surprise’ birthday party is an extra source of stress, especially when she decides to invite her ex-son-in-law. Luckily, the meticulously organised Claire has everything in hand, despite also trying to negotiate a session of swinging for her and her husband. Husband Adam is reluctant, but once convinced he becomes so enthusiastic that Claire is furious with him! The love stories are convincing and both Rachel’s current beau Quin and ex-husband Luke have their strengths. I held out hope for Quin and Rachel because I thought they suited each other. However, once Luke is on the scene the chemistry and unfinished business between him and Rachel is undeniable. Quin isn’t the only obstacle either, Luke’s partner Callie is with him in Ireland and seems very determined to keep Rachel close. I didn’t know if Rachel and Luke would be able to move past their history and connect again, as the people they are now. I loved how they tried their hardest to work through what happened, despite the pain it’s clearly causing. Could they possibly remain friends and share their loss, after all only the two of them can fully understand what they went through. Despite knowing that that Rachel didn’t need either man to build a happy life, I knew where my loyalties as we approached the end. Oh what an ending!! I was snap chatting my stepdaughter and we’d both cried buckets at the ending. I was so glad that Marian Keyes had been brave enough to revisit Rachel again.

Published by Penguin 13th April 2023

Marian Keyes is the international bestselling author of Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, The Other Side of the Story, Anybody Out There, This Charming Man, The Brightest Star in the Sky , The Mystery of Mercy Close, The Woman Who Stole My Life, The Break and her latest Number One bestseller, Grown Ups. Her two collections of journalism, Making it up as I Go Along and Under the Duvet: Deluxe Edition are also available from Penguin.

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Forgotten Garden by Sharon Gosling

Thanks to enjoying the blog tour for Sharon Gosling’s first novel, The House Beneath the Cliffs, she became an author I kept an eye on. I was on the look out for her next and The Lighthouse Bookshop confirmed for me that if I’m looking for an escapist read, she is one of my go-to authors. She seems to effortlessly blend a mix of sadness and heartache, secrets, warmth and potential romance into an engrossing read that’s so enjoyable. Our main character, Luisa McGregor, has allowed herself to become stuck. A life that once felt safe, secure and predictable is now starting to stifle Luisa and she needs more, a new challenge perhaps. Then into her lap falls great opportunity. Her friend Oliver presents a daunting, but tantalising proposition. Instead of carrying on as a gardening assistant to a woman she feels increasingly out of step with, she should check out an opportunity to build a whole new garden at a site near the Cumbrian coast. There’s a pot of money available to build a community garden on wasteland next to a gym and youth club. Luisa agrees to visit the site and is daunted by the amount of work needed, but also inspired by what could be achieved there. As we meet the people of this disadvantaged area of Collaton, we can see what a community garden could mean to these people. There’s teacher Cas, who is pouring all of his energy and spare time into the young people of the area. Harper is a teenager with a lot on her plate, but determined to find a way out of Collaton towards a different future. Can Luisa design a garden that brings both healing, inspiration and a stronger sense of community for the residents?

I did connect with Luisa and the position she has become stuck in. She has had to recover from the terrible trauma of losing her husband in an accident. She has dragged herself up from the darkest and most difficult days following her husband’s death, to a point where she feels she has rebuilt her life. She’s working in garden design, even if she doesn’t like her boss, she has a nice home and great support in her sister. Really though, she’s just treading water and terrified of stretching herself or reaching for something that she could lose. I loved the way the author shows Luisa coming alive again as she works on the new garden. She literally blooms alongside her plants and seems to gain something from working with others and passing on her skills. Without trying too hard, the garden draws in those who need it including a woman who’s been her husband’s carer since an accident paralysed him. He’s initially sceptical and annoyed that his wife’s attention has been captured by Luisa’s plans, but just a few hours a week gaining respite from her caring role has transformed her. It’s not long before he’s creating bespoke benches for the garden, adapting the way he uses his joinery skills to his disability. Harper is a character who really stands out, she’s a young girl brimming with potential, but struggling to escape the difficult circumstances of her life. She is the main caregiver for her younger brother, now that their mum has died and their father has escaped into the bottle. Harper has a skill for mechanics, engineering and invention. She spends her spare time either at the club with Cas or helping at the local garage where she’s doing up a battered old Mini that Cas has gifted to her. Harper’s story shows us how hard it can be for someone to escape where they live and their family circumstances. Her cousin Darren is out of prison and is back dealing drugs in the area again, Harper is devastated when he preys upon her younger brother, Max. Max is easily influenced, especially when it comes to friendships. He struggles to make friends and has been subjected to bullying, so when someone older and seemingly cool pays him attention it’s an easy conquest. Darren wants him as a drug runner or lookout, but Harper puts her foot down and offers herself up instead. I was on tenterhooks, knowing that this decision would have consequences in the future.

There are a few powerful scenes that really stand out. Max has a secret that he’s been working on in Harper’s absence, inspired by the garden and when it was unveiled I almost held my breath. I loved the idea for his garden and the description was so lush and vivid I could almost smell the vegetation and feel the warmth. I could imagine sitting there, early on a sunny morning and enjoying a coffee. I also kept thinking what an incredible wedding venue it would be. It’s clear as soon as Cas and Luisa meet that there is potential for romance, but I wondered if both of them were too hurt by their pasts to take the chance. I was sure it needed a catalyst and the author certainly gives us one. The scene where Darren’s thugs get into the garden was heartbreaking and heart-stopping. I could actually feel the fear of the volunteers and residents as Darren shows his true colours and the bad boy reputation he’s trying to create for himself in the community. However, the gang don’t expect to be challenged, with devastating results. I was rooting for Cas and Luisa, with their endeavours in the community and their potential romance too. I read to the end quickly, determined to see the garden succeed and whether Luisa would overcome her fear of love and inevitable loss. I took the book on holiday with me and it was an enjoyable and emotional read, with an ending that was truly satisfying. This is an author who understands that life has seasons and that women have an amazing capacity to accept life’s changes, as well as the resilience to reinvent themselves and start over again.

Published by Simon and Schuster UK 27th April 2023

Meet the Author

I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, which is now a distressingly long time ago! I started out as an entertainment journalist – actually, my earliest published work was as a reviewer of science fiction and fantasy books. I went on to become a staff writer and then an editor for print magazines, before beginning to write non-fiction making-of books tied in to film and television, such as The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful and Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film. 

I now write both children’s and adult fiction – my first novel was called The Diamond Thief, a Victorian-set steampunk adventure book for the middle grade age group. That won the Redbridge Children’s prize in 2014, and I went on to write two more books in the series before moving on to other adventure books including The Golden Butterfly, which was nominated for the Carnegie Award in 2017, The House of Hidden Wonders, and a YA horror called FIR, which was shortlisted for the Lancashire Book of the Year Award in 2018. 

My debut adult novel was published by Simon & Schuster in August 2021. It was called The House Beneath the Cliffs and it was set in a very small coastal village in Scotland. The idea for it had lodged in my head years before. I have a love for unusual dwelling places and I came across a tiny house that completely captured my imagination. My adult fiction tends to centre on small communities – feel-good tales about how we find where we belong in life and what it means when we do. Although I have also published full-on adult horror stories, which are less about community and more about terror and mayhem…

I was born in Kent but now live in a very small house in an equally small village in northern Cumbria with my husband, who owns a bookshop in the nearby market town of Penrith.