Navigate / search

Book Review: Five Go Glamping by Liz Tipping

If, like me, you’ve ever longed for a romantic heroine who didn’t have perfect skin, an exciting job in the city, hardly any flaws and was totally lovely but inexplicably couldn’t find anyone to love her, then it might be time to download Five Go Glamping and escape to the countryside for a few hours. 

Festival tickets
Double check best Instagram filter
Avoid thinking about work/Connor/five year plan!!

A four day break from her hectic life to relax in the countryside and hang out at a local festival (for free!) is just what Fiona Delaney needs. With her best friends, great tunes and a cool looking hat her Instagram shots are going to look A-Mazing!

Until suddenly glamping starts to feel a lot more like camping and Fiona’s in desperate search of a comfy chair, wi-fi and a chilled glass of wine. But when she finally makes it to the local pub she discovers this trip could be more than just a holiday, it might just change her life forever…

Fiona Delaney may be a city girl but her job’s not remotely exciting, although she does her best to make the most of it with her wicked sense of mischief aimed perpetually at her colleagues, and Doris, in particular. Having taken the job hoping to move into something more challenging, which has never happened, her stop-gap has become her career and she’s shocked to discover how long it’s been that way and that it’s not quite as senior as she’d hoped. All is not lost though because… Fiona has a plan. Oh yes, a Five-Year Plan to be exact. She likes to plan, plan to the extent of it being a problem. Miss Spontaneity she is not. But if she’s working towards her plan, even though she’s not quite where she hoped to be by now, her life’s on track, right?

Well, you’ll have to see what you think about her situation but friends Steph and Sinead think she could do with a break at the very least, so when the latter scores them a free glamping weekend away, Fiona is persuaded that it might be just what she needs. Change of scene, some of the comforts of home, and distance put between her and the not-as-attentive-as-he-should-be boyfriend, Connor. The three friends are joined by Kirk and his new sidekick, Brian Harvey, who is completely adorable and who you will love. Read more

Book Review: A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

Two things drew me to Keith Stuart’s novel, A Boy Made of Blocks: the first was that it was inspired by his own experiences with one of his sons, who was diagnosed with autism, and I hoped it might help me see the world through the eyes of someone with autism and those closest to them, and perhaps come to a better understanding of it. Secondly, what with the father and son in the book bonding over Minecraft, I figured A Boy Made of Blocks might finally shed some light on the (mysterious to me) appeal of console games for people like Sam, his dad, Alex, and my own husband.

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .

Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

When the book opens, Alex is in a bad place: he can’t seem to do anything right, or hold anything much together. His family has reached crisis point and his wife, Jody, decides to show him some tough love in a last attempt to get him to sort himself out and start pulling his weight in the family. I could understand Jody’s frustration and how she felt that Alex was behaving just like another child of the family, rather than a real partner to her, but I had a certain amount of sympathy for Alex too. I’m not a parent, and I’ve definitely not been blessed with much patience, so I know that I would struggle to cope in Alex and Jody’s shoes, where they constantly feel as if they’re treading on eggshells and any paths to communication with Sam run through a minefield. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one parent can abdicate responsibility and leave it all up to the other either and Alex did frustrate me at times, as a character who is prone to wallowing in his own miserable situation while others get on with things around him. And yet, something about him had me rooting for him to find a way back to Sam, and Jody. Read more

Book Review: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen

Even before meeting those winning and winsome literary silver arctic foxes Harold Fry* and Allan Karlsson**, I’ve long held a special place in my heart for older men with a bit of a twinkle in their eye and a penchant for roguish mischief and storytelling, thanks to a much-loved and missed uncle, and a godfather who wrote the best letters I’ve ever received. Through university, I soon migrated away from the student’s union bars to the spit-and-sawdust pubs of Cardiff, in search of their kind. So it feels only natural that I still look for them in the pages of books I read. This year, he appeared in the form of Hendrik Groen.

‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’

Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?

Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.

You may not immediately warm to Hendrik Groen: he might come across as a grumpy old man, grisly and grouchy, cantankerous and difficult, looking only to cause trouble and upset the staff and other residents of the Dutch care home where he lives under a myriad of regulations. But stick with him because under that irascible surface is a fighter, a survivor, and a man with a good heart. All his attempts at obstruction, and subversion of the rules of the home, are simply his way of asserting himself: of refusing to be a number, a burden, an object in the way to be moved around by others, and instead saying that he’s still alive and is very much a human being like you and me, the only difference being that he’s a little further along his life path.

As you get to know Hendrik a little better, as he opens up to you and others within the home, this is where the book really comes into its own. I enjoyed getting to know him and the other characters, and seeing how their relationships develop and deepen. It’s interesting to see how Hendrik himself changes when he is given a purpose and has people who he comes to care about. It’s touching how much of a difference it seems to make to him and makes you think about how that could be done for others in real life. Read more

Book Review and #Giveaway: The English Girl by Katherine Webb

Thanks to an open book club event run by Book-ish in Crickhowell earlier this year, I read Katherine Webb’s The English Girl when it came out in hardback. Actually, thinking about it, a friend lent me their proof copy because I was so eager to read it before the event, and meeting Katherine. It was the first book of hers that I’d read, although she was an author whose novels I’d been meaning to read for some time – three were waiting patiently on my bookshelves – and the event bumped her up to the top of the TBR pile. Shortly after finishing The English Girl, I bought the remaining two so that I wasted no further time in reading her entire backlist. You can probably guess from all of this that I absolutely loved The English Girl, and because it’s out in paperback today, not only am I going to share my review of it but I’m also going to do a giveaway because when you find a great book, you want other people to read it and this’ll make it easier for one of you.

Joan Seabrook, a fledgling archaeologist, has fulfilled her lifelong dream to travel to Arabia and has arrived in the ancient city of Muscat with her fiancé, Rory. Desperate to escape the pain of a personal tragedy, she longs to explore the desert fort of Jabrin and unearth the wonders held within.

But Oman is a land lost in time, and in the midst of violent upheaval gaining permission to explore could prove impossible. Joan’s disappointment is only eased by the thrill of meeting her childhood heroine, pioneering explorer Maude Vickery, and hearing the stories that captured her imagination and sparked her ambition as a child.

The friendship that forms between the two women will change everything. Both have desires to fulfil and secrets to keep. As their bond grows, Joan is inspired by the thrill of her new friend’s past and finds herself swept up in a bold and dangerous adventure of Maude’s making. Only too late does she begin to question her actions – actions that will spark a wild, and potentially devastating, chain of events.

Will the girl that left England for this beautiful but dangerous land ever find her way back?

What I love about historical fiction is that it often provides me with heroines who I wouldn’t find in or have heard about from history books, shining a light on either overlooked or little known women. And even in the case of fictional heroines, whether or not they’re inspired by real women of the time, hearing the story of a certain time and place from a female perspective, which can be quite different to how their male counterparts would have experienced things, helps me question and hopefully expand my understanding of other places and cultures at various periods throughout history. (And no, I’m not taking novels as fact in the place of history books but they can help bring it alive in a way that sparks an interest into a novel’s events and background which, in turn, leads to further reading and research.) In The English Girl, despite its title, there are not one, but two pioneering women, even if the more modern of the two doesn’t start out intending to be as adventurous and as much of a risk-taker as she ultimately turns out to be. Read more

Book Review: A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom

Prague is high on my list of places to visit but not somewhere I’ve managed to get to, unfortunately, and with my love of European Christmas markets and wandering medieval towns with cobbled streets and stories and legends at every turn, I’ve always imagined that it’s especially magical this time of year. Happily, one of the joys of reading is being whisked off to a different place, especially when for whatever reason you can’t get there in reality, and that’s why I jumped at the chance to read an early copy of Isabelle Broom’s latest novel, A Year and a Day, the majority of which is set in Prague.

Welcome to a city where wishes are everywhere

For Megan, a winter escape to Prague with her friend Ollie is a chance to find some inspiration for her upcoming photography exhibition. But she’s determined to keep their friendship from becoming anything more. Because if Megan lets Ollie find out about her past, she risks losing everything – and she won’t let that happen again . . .

For Hope, the trip is a surprise treat from Charlie, her new partner. But she’s struggling to enjoy the beauty of the city when she knows how angry her daughter is back home. And that it’s all her fault . . .

For Sophie, the city has always been a magical place. This time she can’t stop counting down the moments until her boyfriend Robin joins her. But in historic Prague you can never escape the past . . .

Three different women.
Three intertwining love stories.
One unforgettable, timeless city.

Of course, it wasn’t only the Prague setting that appealed with this book. The fact that one of the characters, Megan, is a photographer piqued my interest and I also wanted to see how the friends or something more would play out in supposedly one of the most romantic cities in the world. I also liked that the friend in question, Ollie, was a school teacher and not some big shot in the city. I enjoy books where at least some of the characters could be my friends far more than I do reading about unattainable high flyers who have no time for themselves, let alone anyone else. The other characters are equally relatable: there’s Hope, who’s recently left a long-term relationship and is struggling to find her place in the new life she’s stumbled into with Charlie, a follicly-challenged driving instructor. And last but not least, little Sophie, who may be quiet and still live at home on her parent’s farm, but is by far the most travelled of the group and waiting to be joined by her soulmate and fiance in a place they’ve visited many times together.

How these people fare as they wander from hotel to sight to cosy bar to sight and back again, slipping over ice and words while trying to keep warm in the wintry chill of an Eastern European city varies, and the characters’ concerns and sentiments felt pretty real and contemporary. While some turns in their stories were full of modern dilemma, with twists I could guess at, one story in particular left me weeping and shaken, and in dire need of a comforting bear hug or, failing that, a hot spiced wine from one of the stalls in the nearby Christmas market. I was happy to be caught off guard by this story though, it gave the rest of the book a dramatic edge and tempered the sweetness of the other stories to a much more bearable level for me. Yes, there are times when some of the descriptions seem overblown, but I let the characters – and the author – off given I probably will use nothing but superlatives when I finally get to see Prague, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of myth and legend, flashbacks and memories, and finished A Year and a Day feeling wrung out and sated but ultimately hopeful for these people’s futures. Read more

Book review: Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Death at the Seaside, Frances Brody’s eighth novel about 1920s sleuth Kate Shackleton. Death at the Seaside may be Kate’s eighth outing but it was my first introduction to her and Frances Brody’s novels, and I have to confess that what primarily attracted me to the book was its setting of Whitby. For that reason alone, I was keen to read it. Here’s what it’s about:

Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton feels like she deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

Initially I may have been drawn to reading Death at the Seaside by Kate’s choice of Whitby as her holiday location but Kate Shackleton very quickly won me over in her own right. She is, indeed, as the book blurb says, a tenacious woman, and I had a lot of fun following her around my favourite Yorkshire seaside town, albeit the one of almost a hundred years ago. I particularly enjoyed Kate’s observations and asides, and felt that she was the kind of woman you would want as a friend or on your side, at the very least. In situations where I would have let my temper get the better of me, she handles everything with a wry smile and polite firmness, and dashes off annoying situations as if they were flecks of dust. She’s sparky and full of life, and strides out to meet it full on. She’s not a woman prepared to settle, unlike her friend, Alma. Kate knows her own mind and, at a time when Europe has been badly shaken by war and her own young husband was one of those who didn’t make it home, she seems remarkably full of hope for the future. Read more

Book Review: To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

Having loved Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, I was interested to see what she did next – and while her setting is once again that of Alaska, she’s written a very different novel to her debut but one that is every bit as rewarding to read.

Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its rich natural resources to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.

To The Bright Edge of the World is an epistolary novel which tells the story of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester and his young wife, Sophie. Forrester is to lead an expeditionary force up the Wolverine River to explore the newly-acquired territory of Alaska and its potential to be opened up. Newly-pregnant Sophie has to learn to cope with the new life within, as well as the long period of separation from her husband. Read more

Book Review: Tastes Like Fear by Sarah Hilary

The third outing for Sarah Hilary’s D. I. Marnie Rome is a gripping read: if it hadn’t been for the pesky day job and equally pesky family demanding meals, I could quite easily have finished this in one glorious binge-reading session. It’s a terrific story set in present-day London which, as with the author’s other books, not only deals with contemporary problems and issues but challenges you to think about them and the society we live in today where such awful things can happen (and largely go unnoticed or unreported for so long).

You’ll never be out of Harm’s way

The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.

A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.

To the one man who understands her.

Gives her shelter.

Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.

He’s the head of her new family.

He’s Harm.

D.I. Marnie Rome has faced many dangerous criminals but she has never come up against a man like Harm. She thinks that she knows families, their secrets and their fault lines. But as she begins investigating the girl’s disappearance nothing can prepare her for what she’s about to face.

Because when Harm’s family is threatened, everything tastes like fear… Read more

Book Review: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

It’s a rare book that can immerse me in another world and time when I’m teaching homestay students but Anna Mazzola’s debut novel, The Unseeing, managed to do just that. And it kept me up far too late while doing so!

Out today from Tinder Press, The Unseeing takes a real historical crime as its inspiration for this story of a gruesome murder, the two people condemned to hang for it, a petition for mercy, the ensuing Home Office investigation, and two young people caught up in a web of family, secrets and silence.

It is 1837 and the city streets teem with life, atmosphere and the stench of London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, has been sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.

Edmund Fleetwood, an idealistic lawyer, is appointed to investigate Sarah’s petition for mercy and consider whether justice has been done. Struggling with his own demons, he is determined to seek out the truth, yet Sarah refuses to help him.

Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone with a child would go willingly to their own death?

Sarah Gale is a difficult woman to have as a central character. When you meet her, she’s on her way to Newgate prison after having been sentenced to death for her part in a grisly murder. You receive the full force of the public’s reaction to her before you get to know her, something which will take the entire length of the book. At times, she comes across as cold and proud, even aloof, guilty of the crime she’s been charged with, and possibly even worse; at best, she seems enigmatic, a woman living in her head as the safest, sanest option. She keeps very much to herself, wary of saying anything, even to the appointed investigator.

Edmund’s equally interesting. He’s a young lawyer, young enough to still be idealistic but keen to make his mark and make a difference to the world. He’s flattered and excited by the appointment to a case he followed out of what seems more than professional interest. The case consumes him and causes him to neglect not only his own well-being but his own wife and child. He’s almost too intense in his investigation, so that you start to wonder if he’s seeing straight, and thinking clearly, or if he is being played by Sarah or subject to other pressures. Read more

Book Review: Fell by Jenn Ashworth

If you liked the atmospheric writing of The Loney, you’ll enjoy this haunting novel set just up the coast around Morecambe Bay with its seeping, shifting sands, creeping decay and sinister Sycamores full of starlings. These last two are helping nature to reclaim the abandoned family home Annette Clifford inherits. She’s an unwilling beneficiary, reluctantly returning to deal with the house and in doing so, inadvertently disturbing the spirits of her parents. Once awakened, they see this as an opportunity for them to make amends but first have to revisit what was a painful period in their former lives together.

Fell is narrated by the spirit parents which adds to the disturbing sense of things shifting; they move around and disappear like will o’the wisps, struggle to find words, have no voice in this new incarnation but somehow need to find a way to communicate with their daughter and others in the book.

I don’t think you need to know the place to enjoy this novel at all but it gave me an added thrill to already know the area where Fell is set from regular visits to Great Aunts who lived there and I had fun recognising elements of it. But I also enjoyed visiting Jenn Ashworth’s version of it. The house, together with the town and estuary around it, all feel like living, breathing characters and the way in which Jenn Ashworth describes them can at times be unsettling. She gives the reader a real sense of their own impermanence with the descriptions of how tides and sands, or plants and mould, keep creeping, moving, shifting, reclaiming, or revealing again what was lost.  Read more

%d bloggers like this: