21.1.20

BOOK REVIEW: Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

They're a glamorous family, the Caseys.
Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together - birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they're a happy family. Johnny's wife, Jessie - who has the most money - insists on it.
Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .
Everything stays under control until Ed's wife Cara, gets concussion and can't keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny's birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.
In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it's time - finally - to grow up?
Publisher: Michael Joseph
February 6th 2020
I am a huge fan of Marian Keyes and have read every single one of her fabulous books. I always let out an excited shriek when I learn that she has a new one coming out. Grown Ups has many of Marian Keyes’ trademarks which I was glad of but it almost felt like the most honest and tender book she has written. 
The story revolves around the Casey family, Johnny, Ed and Liam are brothers and are very different as are their wives, Jessie, Cara and Nell. Jessie is the one with the successful business and a lot of money so she is the one to arrange the lavish family events that brings them all together. As with all families, not everybody gets on all the time and there is a lot of drama. However, this is magnified when Ed’s wife Cara attends a family meal after hitting her head. Her concussion leads her to deliver some home truths to some members of the family, it provides a wake up call that will shake the Casey’s up, they probably won’t be the same again.
Grown Ups is so, so well done. There are a lot of characters involved but once I had it in my head who was who and how they were all connected then I became completely engrossed in their individual stories. I don’t want to give too much away but Keyes packs a huge amount into this book, we have addiction, love, family, friendships, anxiety, ambition and much more. Using a family unit to explore all of these different issues is an excellent idea as it really strips the characters bare, you can rarely hide things from your own family and when you have a large extended family then issues almost become magnified.
My favourite characters were Nell and Ferdia and the bond that they form, it was handled so well and I loved their parts of the book. Nell is a great character, she has married into the family and her husband Liam is not shaping up to be who she thought he was. But what do you do if you like your husband’s family more than your husband?
Marian Keyes has written openly about her experience of mental health and I felt as though she used her own knowledge and perspective of addiction to offer an excellent insight. One of the characters has an addiction within the book and Keyes presents it warts and all. I liked how she did not tip-toe around the problem but instead showed the impact and consequences it has plus the ways in which it affects the wider family and friends.
Grown Ups is an excellent book and showcases Marian Keyes’ immense talent, I cannot recommend it enough.  Many thanks to Michael Joseph for allowing me to review this book via Netgalley, it is out in February!

7.1.20

BOOK REVIEW: Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd

Meet the forensic pathologist, Dr Richard Shepherd. A detective in his own right, he must solve the mystery of sudden and unexplained deaths. He has performed over 23,000 autopsies, including some of the most high-profile cases of recent times; the Hungerford Massacre, the Princess Diana inquiry, and 9/11. He has faced serial killers, natural disaster, 'perfect murders' and freak accidents. His evidence has put killers behind bars, freed the innocent, and turned open-and-shut cases on their heads. Yet all this has come at a huge personal cost. Unnatural Causes tells the story of not only the cases and bodies that have haunted him the most, but also how to live a life steeped in death.
Publisher: Penguin Pages: 445
This book was fascinating and well written. Dr Richard Shepherd is one of Britain’s most respected forensic pathologists and he has performed thousands of autopsies whilst being involved in many well known cases. I have always been interested in this area of medicine and Shepherd provides the reader with a great insight into a world that many will never experience. 
As a pathologist Shepherd has been involved in many well publicised cases such as 9/11, the Hungerford Massacre and the Bali bombings, he recounts his experiences in great detail and we get to see these shocking events from a different perspective. Whilst being respectful to the dead, a pathologist’s job is to discover the truth as to how they died. Shepherd talks you through the many different processes involved, the mistakes that have been made and the lessons learned within his field. His career has spanned decades and he is honest about the problems he encountered and how he has fought to bring about change. He is passionate about using his knowledge and expertise to help people, be that teaching police officers how to restrain people safely; the importance of looking at safe-guarding issues when a child dies or even how to make newly qualified police-officers feel more comfortable in a mortuary environment. He cares deeply about what he does and that shines through in this book. His writing is full of compassion and whilst he is making judgements on the cause of death, he does not pass judgement on those involved, rather he seeks to understand why they behaved as they did.. 
Unnatural Causes is beautifully honest too, I was so impressed with the way Shepherd chose to write about his personal life and the way his career has impacted on that. I am married to a GP and I could completely identify with the ways in which his job have affected his family life. He talks about the inevitability of bringing his work home and being unable to switch off. It was interesting to read the many instances where he was not sure whether to share certain work experiences with his two children. It was reassuring as we have had similar conversations in our house; we try to be honest but you also have a job to shield them from some things while you can. Shepherd did not have to write about this aspect of his life but for me it is what made the book great; you cannot do a job like he did without it spilling over into your home life and he is totally up front about that. 
Unnatural Causes is a fantastic read, I flew through it and can highly recommend. 

24.12.19

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Some houses are never at peace.England, 1917 Reeling from the death of her fiancĂ©, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side...
Publisher: Harper Collins
The Lost Ones is an accomplished debut from Anita Frank and it fully deserves the comparisons being made with Wilkie Collins and Susan Hill. 
Stella Marcham is mourning the death of her fiance in the First World War, where working as a nurse, she saw many horrors first hand. Feeling almost over-powered by her grief she is pleased to be invited to stay with her sister Madeleine who is expecting her first child. Stella arrives at Greyswick, a country estate still very much controlled by Madeleine’s mother-in-law to find her sister much altered. Instead of the pregnancy glow that Stella expected, she finds Madeleine wracked with anxiety and convinced that there is something sinister in the great house. At first she is sceptical but then she too experiences things in the house that can’t be explained. Tristan Sheers arrives prepared to refute the sisters’ claims and although striving for different purposes, he and Stella start delving into Greyswick’s past and soon they uncover the truth behind the strange goings-on. 
The Lost Ones is beautifully creepy and definitely not one to read on your own late at night. I marvelled at the way Anita Frank built up the tension and there were several times when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. She is so clever at using little events to give you a greater and greater sense of unease, voices in the night, an empty baby’s crib rocking, invisible hands on your back. The characters add to this too, Mrs Henge the housekeeper has a definite air of Mrs Danvers about her as she suddenly appears from shadowy corners in the house. 
Greyswick is the perfect setting for this story, all families have secrets and the house has witnessed them all. Bound by social etiquette and her position as a guest, Stella has to really push herself in order to discover the truth. All she wants to do is return her sister’s happiness but there are so many people in the book who want the past to remain hidden. There were points within the book where you question Stella’s reliability as a narrator as there are several references to the state of her mental health. You begin to wonder if she has just imagined it all as she is still grieving and recovering from her time in France.

I very much enjoyed The Lost Ones, it is a fantastic story and perfectly executed.

23.12.19

BOOK REVIEW: Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner

The remarkable life of Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret who was also a Maid of Honour at the Queen’s Coronation – and is a character in The Crown this autumn. Anne Glenconner reveals the real events behind The Crown as well as her own life of drama, tragedy and courage, with the wonderful wit and extraordinary resilience which define her.
Anne Glenconner has been close to the Royal Family since childhood. Eldest child of the 5th Earl of Leicester, she was, as a daughter, described as ‘the greatest disappointment’ by her family as she was unable to inherit. Her childhood home Holkham Hall is one of the grandest estates in England. Bordering Sandringham the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were frequent playmates.
From Maid of Honour at the Queen’s Coronation to Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret, Lady Glenconner is a unique witness to royal history, as well as an extraordinary survivor of a generation of aristocratic women trapped without inheritance and burdened with social expectations.
She married the charismatic but highly volatile Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, who became the owner of Mustique. Together they turned the island into a paradise for the rich and famous, including Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and it became a favourite retreat for Princess Margaret.
But beneath the glitz and glamour there has also lurked tragedy. On Lord Glenconner’s death in 2010 he left his fortune to a former employee. And of their five children, two grown-up sons died, while a third son had to be nursed back from a coma by Anne, after having suffered a near fatal accident.
Anne Glenconner writes with extraordinary wit, generosity and courage and she exposes what life was like in her gilded cage, revealing the role of her great friendship with Princess Margaret, and the freedom she can now finally enjoy in later life. 

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton 
Pages: 336

I simply loved this book! I saw it on the author Harriet Evans’ page and I was intrigued, I’m go glad I bought a copy as it was a complete delight. I am not a huge fan of the royal family so don’t think you have to be in order to enjoy this memoir. Anne Glenconner has led such an interesting and varied life, it is impossible not to be entertained by her writing. She offers a glimpse into a very different world and it was not quite what I expected. She very much shows the role and limitations of aristocratic women at her time, she always felt a huge disappointment to her family as she was not a boy and therefore would be not be able to inherit Holkham Hall, the family estate meaning it would pass to a different line of the family. Laws have now changed but these circumstances were very common. Glenconner also offers an insight into the ways in which wealthy families with vast estates were affected by the war and the change of life it brought about. 
Her connection to the Queen and Princess Margaret is fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the chapter where she took part in the Queen’s coronation. It was so interesting to learn about the planning and detail that goes into such a historic event plus I felt that she really gave you a good sense of just how she had felt on the day, taking part in such a momentous occasion at such a young age. 
Anne Glenconner does not hold back, she is searingly honest about the difficult relationship she had with her husband, the rather eccentric Colin Tennant. She details how Colin bought the island of Mustique and spent a vast part of his life developing it into the revered place that it is today. She talks candidly about the tragedies endured by her family, she lost two sons and had to nurse one back from a coma. Throughout the book, she is honest about having Nannies and leaving the children for long periods of time in order to carry out royal duties and so on but in those times that was the done thing within the aristocracy. Despite this, the deep love and pride she has in her children shines through and you can see that she revels in the freedom to spend more time with them in this part of her life. 
I think Anne Glenconner does a superb job of showing how difficult it was for Princess Margaret being the sister of the Queen and although it afforded her a life of great wealth and privilege it also had many limitations and negatives. Anne’s relationship with Princess Margaret was extremely close and it was so lovely to hear of the thoughtful things that the Princess did for her friend and her family, it was not a one-way friendship as some may assume. 
I cannot recommend this book enough, I flew through it and was so sad to reach the final chapter. Anne Glenconner writes with warmth, wit and honesty, it is one of the best memoirs I have ever read.

22.12.19

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman

A house full of history is bound to have secrets...Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It's also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…A hauntingly beautiful story of love and hope, from the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Memory Book and The Summer of Impossible Things
Publisher: Ebury Press
Pages: 464
I have had The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman sitting on my kindle for a while and I am so pleased that I have finally got round to reading it. This book is fantastic, I could not put it down. Coleman takes the reader to Ponden Hall, the house is hundreds of years old and steeped in Bronte history. It is where Emily drew her inspiration for Wuthering Heights and she and her sisters spent a lot of time there. Trudy has not been back to Ponden for years but her childhood home calls her when she tragically loses her husband. Taking her young son Will, Trudy returns to her mother and the house that has been such a huge part of her life. As she tries to provide some stability for her devastated son, Trudy begins to sense that the house has a secret to divulge. She remembers seeing apparitions as a child and her father always told her the stories of the resident ghosts but what if these were more than purely imagination? Trudy and her mother begin to search Ponden’s many hiding places, all they know is the secret is linked to Emily Bronte and the tale she wanted to tell of one of the house’s tragic figures. 

The Girl at the Window is truly captivating, Rowan Coleman weaves her story beautifully, it almost creeps up on you and suddenly you are totally engrossed and cannot stop turning the pages. I am a huge Bronte fan and I found this aspect of the book fascinating, I loved hearing about Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights and the three sisters links to Ponden Hall which I have to admit I had never heard of. I have visited the Parsonage at Howarth so I could vividly recall this when it is featured in the book but it really renewed my interest in these truly inspiring women.

I had not expected the book to be quite so spooky but I was so impressed with the way that Coleman built the tension up and there were many moments where I felt like I was holding my breath. It was so reminiscent of the atmosphere created in Wuthering Heights, I shall definitely be having a re-read again. At the heart of this story is a mystery about two women, Emily and Agnes. One known the world over and one not heard of before. Coleman expertly ties these two characters together and it was so interesting to see Trudy piecing the clues together whilst learning so much more about these two females who are a big part of her family history. 

The Girl at the Window is high up on my list of favourite books I have read this year. I will be getting a copy of The Vanished Bride which Rowan Coleman has written under the name of Bella Ellis, it is the first in a new series of Bronte mysteries and I cannot wait to read it! 

15.12.19

BLOG TOUR: Mrs P's Book of Secrets by Lorna Gray

There are no white shrouded spectres here, no wailing ghouls. Just the echoes of those who have passed, whispering that history is set to repeat itself.The Cotswolds, Christmastime 1946: A young widow leaves behind the tragedy of her wartime life, and returns home to her ageing aunt and uncle. For Lucy – known as Mrs P – and the people who raised her, the books that line the walls of the family publishing business bring comfort and the promise of new beginnings.But the kind and reserved new editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press is a former prisoner of war, and he has his own shadows to bear. And when the old secrets of a little girl’s abandonment are uncovered within the pages of Robert Underhills’s latest project, Lucy must work quickly if she is to understand the truth behind his frequent trips away.For a ghost dwells in the record of an orphan girl’s last days. And even as Lucy dares to risk her heart, the grief of her own past seems to be whispering a warning of fresh loss…
Publisher: One More Chapter
I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Lorna Gray’s new book, Mrs P’s Book of Secrets which is published this month.
Lucy or Mrs P as she prefers to be known is a war widow and she has returned to her aunt and uncle’s home in Moreton In Marsh in the Cotswolds. Her relatives run a small book publishers above a book shop and give Lucy a job. She has to stay in the small attic room above the shop as her aunt and uncle have a lodger in the form of Robert Underhill living with and working for them. Robert was a prisoner of war for most of the fighting and now he is trying to resurrect his former life and continue his career as a book editor. Lucy is most intrigued by him but she is still grieving the loss of her own husband so any feelings she develops are very much conflicted. The ghost within the story is in the form of a child they discover was abandoned when they are reading a manuscript given to them. Both Robert and Lucy want to know more and this brings them closer together whilst also making them confront the tragedies from their own pasts. 
Mrs P’s Book of Secrets is delightful in the way that it deals with the world of books. I loved how Lucy works and sleeps within a publishers which is above a bookshop, she is literally surrounded by books. Lorna Gray explores the importance of stories and the power they can yield. Both Lucy and Robert have their own stories to tell but at the beginning of the book neither of them are ready to share them with others. 
I felt that Lorna Gray dealt very sensitively in showing life after the war for both those involved in the fighting and those who stayed at home. So much was not spoken about almost because there was not the language for it. The atrocities witnessed had not been described before. Lucy and Robert’s relationship is a good way of showing how difficult it was to support those who returned in dealing with what they had experienced. 
Lorna Gray presents likeable characters and there is a mystery at the heart of the book that leaves you wanting more at the end of each chapter. This book would be a great choice for fans of historical fiction, particularly, if like me you also have a love of books! 
Many thanks to Lorna Gray for inviting me to be part of her blog tour!a


10.12.19

BOOK REVIEW: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

To save her child, she will trust a stranger.To protect a secret, she must risk her life.
Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn't supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.
Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong.
As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye?
Soon the two women's lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood's stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.
Only they know the truth. Only they can save each other.

Publisher: Zaffre
Pages: 432

I am so pleased that I finally got around to reading this book as it is wonderful. It is definitely in my top 5 of books that I have read this year. Fleetwood Shuttleworth is mistress of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, she is only 17 years old and pregnant with her 4th child. The three previous pregnancies have not gone full term and she is feeling the pressure to provide her husband Richard with the precious heir that he wants. Fleetwood meets Alice Grey, a midwife who uses natural remedies and says she can ensure that Alice and her child will both survive this time. Fleetwood employs Alice and takes her into her home, she feels a connection to this young woman and trusts her to keep to her word. Rumours of witchcraft are building in the local area and Richard and Fleetwood have many influential friends who want to impress the King by bringing those accused to justice. When Alice becomes implicated in the infamous Pendle Witch Trials, Fleetwood is torn between loyalty to her husband and loyalty to her new friend who has promised to keep her and her unborn child alive. Fleetwood is determined to save Alice but she will have to risk everything to do so.
Stacey Halls has written such a fantastic story, I just could not stop turning the pages. I instantly liked Fleetwood as a character and it was interesting to see her grow and develop throughout the story. Halls explores how little power women had at this point in history, although Fleetwood is married to Richard and mistress of one of the finest houses in the country, she has very limited power. The women accused of witchcraft are damned not just by their sex but also because they are poor. They have no power whatsoever and nothing to bargain with, Fleetwood recognises this fact and knows she must try to help in any way she can. 
The Pendle Witch Trials provide a fascinating backdrop to Fleetwood’s story and Stacey Halls research shines through. She weaves her story around the reported facts to create a haunting account of those troubled times. 

I can highly recommend The Familiars, the writing is enticing and vivid, I loved the story that Stacey Halls told and I can’t wait to read more by this author. 

BOOK REVIEW: Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

They're a glamorous family, the Caseys. Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kid...