Posted in Publisher Proof, Random Things Tours

Freckles by Cecilia Ahern

It seems a strange admission to start a review with, but I’ve never liked Cecilia Ahern’s books. In fact P.S. I Love You brings me out in a rash. There has always been something too saccharin and sweet about them. So, when I was browsing NetGalley and saw her new novel I had pretty low expectations, but the blurb piqued my interest and here I am swallowing my words. So, when I had a chance to come on the blog tour, I had to take it. I wanted to let other readers, maybe those who hadn’t liked her other novels, know that Freckles is a fantastic read and I absolutely LOVED it.

Five people.

Five chances.

One woman’s search for happiness.

Allegra Bird’s arms are scattered with freckles, a gift from her beloved father. But despite her nickname, Freckles has never been able to join all the dots. So when a stranger tells her that everyone is the average of the five people they spend the most time with, it opens up something deep inside.

The trouble is, Freckles doesn’t know if she has five people. And if not, what does that say about her? She’s left her unconventional father and her friends behind for a bold new life in Dublin, but she’s still an outsider.

Now, in a quest to understand, she must find not one but five people who shape her – and who will determine her future.

Told in Allegra’s vivid, original voice, moving from modern Dublin to the fierce Atlantic coast, this is an unforgettable story of human connection, of friendship, and of growing into your own skin.

Our heroine, Allegra Bird, is quirky, surprising, incredibly loveable, and finds other human beings quite difficult to understand. She’s a parking warden in her little corner of Dublin and every day has a strict routine. She walks down to the bakery where owner, Spanner, greets her with a coffee and a Belgian waffle. She then follows her route, making sure that the same car is parked outside a certain hairdressers, then makes her way to where a yellow Ferrari is constantly illegally parked. She has a small flat in a large family home, with babysitting duties as part of the deal. On Fridays she goes to a small art gallery in town where there’s a life drawing class. It turns out she’s the regular model – I said she was surprising – and she is fascinated with how the artists approach her freckles. There are some freckles that she used to scratch into star constellations, and she’s fascinated to see if they ignore them or over dramatise them as if they’re huge, angry slashes. This is her daily routine, but when she gives the man with the yellow Ferrari his umpteenth ticket, something changes. He tells her she’s the sum of the five people she’s closest too and he doesn’t mean it as a compliment. As a reader we can see that from his perspective Allegra is a pernickety, humourless, jobsworth. However, we also know that Allegra is sensitive and this really hits home with her. She doesn’t have five people – but what if she could curate her five from people who inspire her or who are really successful? If the theory is correct, then by curating her five she could curate her life, becoming more successful in the process.

The joy I felt in this novel was from seeing how Allegra related to other people. For her, other people behave in totally illogical ways (and I have to say I was in agreement with her about some of them – particularly her dreadful landlady). I loved the relationship with Tristan, built from his inability to park his Ferrari legally. She thinks she’s simply being helpful by taking him forms for permits, so is baffled when he illogically persists in paying from hour to hour, relying on his rather lazy staff to keep an eye on the time. These two hate each other at first, but watching as they try to understand each other is wonderful. When Allegra goes back home to visit her Dad she thinks she might slot back into island life easily. She imagines, like people do when they move away, that nothing will have changed when they return. Will old friends be there for Allegra and make up her five? When she’s with her Dad, we see where some of her quirks come from, because he isn’t the best at picking up other people’s signals either. She finds out he’s been stopped from attending his choir because he’s made a pass at one of the administrators, who has felt uncomfortable and made a complaint. He’s a man stuck in the behaviour of an earlier decade, he seems baffled that just touching a woman on the knee is enough to be labelled a pervert. He has brought Allegra up by himself, but she had come to an age where she wanted to know more about her mother and life beyond this place stranded in the Atlantic. When the results of her search are revealed, I was genuinely surprised. I felt so protective of Allegra by this point, I was desperate for everything to work out the way she wanted. It was this hope that created so much tension towards the end, and I couldn’t stop reading.

I loved Allegra’s unique voice as she lets us into her mind and her world. This wouldn’t be a Cecilia Ahern book without being heartwarming and full of humour, but this story is more complex than that. There are darker characters, parts that are more painful or remain unresolved, that show a real maturity and development. It’s about being proud of where you’re from, but also finding your authentic self – a journey that sometimes needs some distance from where we grew up. The author contrasts genuine, warm and accepting people with the false, Instagram brigade who are more interested in how life looks than how it is. Her characters are brilliant here, more complex and nuanced than I’ve seen before. There are even some that turn out to be deeply narcissistic and I wanted to protect Allegra from them. I loved the contrast between the city streets of Dublin and the wild Atlantic island Allegra calls home. In a way this is the decision she has to make. Where is home? Which place truly suits the person she is instead of the woman she thought she had to be in order to be accepted. Does she know that when we are our authentic selves, we attract people to us anyway. Our true five perhaps? All through the novel I found myself responding emotionally to the story, but Allegra’s character simply made me smile and perspective on her world made me smile inside. Not that she needs it, because I know millions love her writing, but if Ahern keeps writing characters like Freckles, she has found herself a brand new fan.

Meet The Author


After completing a degree in Journalism and Media Communications, Cecelia wrote her first novel at 21 years old. Her debut novel, PS I Love You was published in January 2004, and was followed by Where Rainbows End (aka Love, Rosie) in November 2004. Both novels were adapted to films; PS I Love You starred Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, and Love, Rosie starred Lily Collins and Sam Claflin. 

Cecelia has published a novel every year since then and to date has published 15 novels; If You Could See Me Now, A Place Called Here, Thanks for the Memories, The Gift, The Book of Tomorrow, The Time of My Life, One Hundred Names, How To Fall in Love, The Year I Met You, The Marble Collector, Flawed, Perfect and Lyrebird. 

To date, Cecelia’s books have sold 25 million copies internationally, are published in over 40 countries, in 30 languages. 

Along with writing novels, Cecelia has co-created the US ABC Comedy Samantha Who? and has created many other original TV projects.

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Your Friend Forever by Zena Barrie.

I was thrown back into a time warp with this book from Zena Barrie, because I was almost the same age as Maud at the same time. In the early eighties I was given my first cassette player and I loved Adam and the Ants – it think it was the same year I was given a stage make up kit so I could paint the white stripe across my face, although it didn’t have the same effect on an adolescent girl. I understood completely the place that Maud found herself in, a turbulent time at home and no one to talk to, plus being fascinated by a musician for the first time. I used to get Smash Hits and cut out lyrics and photos to collage on my note books. Maud picks up a pen and paper and writes to the lead singer of her favourite band Horsefly. While the family carries on with their own drama, Maud is asking Tom what to make of it, but also some of the bigger questions in life. Will her Mum and Dad get back together? Are teachers naturally clever people? Is her teacher Mr Hanson really having a wank in the stationery cupboard?

The author has that brilliant skill of making us laugh on one hand, while also being incredibly poignant at the same time. It reminded me of Sue Townsend and her wonderful teenage diarist Adrian Mole who manages to be hilariously funny while also worrying about life’s dramas that keep going on all around him. It’s not all fun for Maud as her Dad leaves, they can’t afford much so she’s often hungry, and the house is damp. Her clothes aren’t always washed and sometimes they don’t fit. Her mum is really struggling with depression, which comes across from her appearance and lack of care. The school don’t notice, which is so upsetting, although safeguarding in 1980 was different to the stringent regulations schools abide by now. Neglect is a very hard thing to call or prove, but terrible for the child involved. Yet through it all Maud is her charming, funny and endlessly questioning self. Not that she wants to make these enquiries of her friend Sarah, because she’s bound to get an answer that revolves around sex. In between there are snippets of interviews and exchanges of Tom’s that show us Maud really has very little idea about how a young music star would behave or spend his time.

We then jump to 2011 where Maud is 43 and married with two children. Tom meanwhile, is still trying to revive his career. Is Maud his only fan though? She begins corresponding with him again and I loved the brilliant way the author has written the narrative of a middle- aged woman, but with the same character that we’ve got to know from her teens. She’s still so open and confessional, but with some wisdom and experience. Tom is her sounding board, her journal, the person who has been there all the time. He hasn’t ‘known’ her, but she feels that connection, because he’s heard all her teenage secrets she’s held nothing back. In the same way she did as a girl, Maud uses her letters to Tom to understand herself and to stay sane in difficult times. The most poignant thing about her letters are that she hasn’t yet lost hope that things will get better. I think people will enjoy this, especially those who remember their teenage years with fondness.

Meet The Author.

Zena Barrie lives in Manchester and runs the Greater Manchester Fringe and the Camden Fringe. She ran the Kings Arms pub and Theatre in Salford for a while and also the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, as well as working in a wide variety of roles at the Edinburgh Fringe (from street performer to venue manager). In the 90s she did a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts specialising in playwriting. Up until recently she has been co-hosting the award winning spoken word night Verbose. She is also one half of performance art duo The Sweet Clowns. Your Friend Forever is her first novel. @ZenaBarrie