23.3.20

BOOK REVIEW: Jog On, How Running Saved my Life

Divorced and struggling with deep-rooted mental health problems, Bella Mackie ended her twenties in tears. She could barely find the strength to get off the sofa, let alone piece her life back together. Until one day she did something she had never done of her own free will – she pulled on a pair of trainers and went for a run.

That first attempt didn’t last very long. But to her surprise, she was back out there the next day. And the day after that. She began to set herself achievable goals – to run 5k in under 30 minutes, to walk to work every day for a week, to attempt 10 push-ups in a row. Before she knew it, her mood was lifting for the first time in years.

In Jog On, Bella explains with hilarious and unfiltered honesty how she used running to battle crippling anxiety and depression, without having to sacrifice her main loves: booze, cigarettes and ice cream. With the help of a supporting cast of doctors, psychologists, sportspeople and friends, she shares a wealth of inspirational stories, research and tips that show how exercise often can be the best medicine. This funny, moving and motivational book will encourage you to say ‘jog on’ to your problems and get your life back on track – no matter how small those first steps may be. 
Publisher: William Collins
Pages: 288
I began running in 2019 by starting the Couch to 5k programme, I started due to family health issues that I was concerned about and thought that it was about time I did some regular exercise. I was about half way through Couch to 5k when my anxiety very much got the better of me. It was terrifying. I struggled to function and it was my family, friends and medication that got me through it. Also running played a big part, it became something that I could really focus on and control whereas everything else felt far out of reach. I completed the Couch to 5k with a huge sense of achievement and now I try to run three days a week. It has a huge effect on my mental health and this is what Bella Mackies discusses in Jog On. 
Mackie hit rock bottom when her first marriage ended, she had always suffered from anxiety but it intensified and she was truly struggling. One evening she put her trainers on and ran for three minutes in the alleyway behind her house and this is what started her running journey. Now she runs most days and she fully believes this is what has helped her live with her anxiety. The book is searingly honest, it is the first book I have read about anxiety and depression where I actually felt like I could identify with the writer’s exact emotions and experiences. Mackie does not hold back or sugar coat it, she describes her darkest moments and how she can trace them back to her younger years. It really opened up my eyes to anxiety and how I had probably been masking it for a long time before my body had just finally had enough and forced me to confront it. 
Mackie’s research is impeccable and insightful. She has spoken to a whole variety of people about their mental health and how they have used exercise to deal with it day to day. This book is about running but I would also urge you to read it even if you never intend to lace up your trainers and get out there. It is about mental health and how it affects so many; it is about learning to cope with it so that you can still have a life and achieve what you want to. 
This is a book that I know I will return to again and again, it offers hope and inspiration, Mackie’s voice is loud and clear on a subject that is still brushed under the carpet by many. 

19.3.20

BLOG TOUR: The Canary Keeper by Claire Carson

They will see me hang for this.
London, 1855. In the grey mist of the early morning a body is dumped on the shore of the Thames by a boatman in a metal canoe. Talk soon spreads of the killer and his striking accomplice: a young widow in mourning dress.
Birdie Quinn's sleeplessness led her to the river that morning. She has always been wilful, haughty, different... but is she a murderess?
To clear her name, she must retrace the dead man's footsteps to Orkney and the far north. A dangerous journey for a woman alone, but one she must make to save her life. Publisher: Head of Zeus Pages: 384
I love historical fiction so I was very pleased to be invited to take part in the blog tour for The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson. If you, like me have enjoyed books such as The Familiars or The Silent Companions then this is one for you. 
Birdie Quinn is our protagonist and she hasn’t had it easy but she has determination and grit in abundance. In a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, Bride is seen next to a body floating in the Thames and she is accused of being involved in the man’s murder. Birdie did recognise the man as he had shouted at her in the street the previous evening saying he had a message for her. She is completely innocent though but faces the threat of hanging for a crime she did not commit. 
Birdie, through her benefactor, has received a good education and she must use her intelligence and skills to clear her name. She discovers the dead man’s name and traces him to Orkney where she poses as a widow looking for a new life. She becomes tangled in a web that she had not expected and she must stay one step ahead so she can clear her name. 
The Canary Keeper is a fabulous murder mystery, Clare Carson’s writing is full of rich descriptions and imagery which create a fantastic atmosphere. I loved the two settings of London and Orkney and how very different they were. Orkney has an almost other world feel to it and I did think that Birdie was incredibly brave to go there alone. The book involves Birdie discovering about the illegal fur trade and the Esquimaux which was not a subject I was familiar with but it was so interesting and you can tell that Carson has done her research.
Birdie is great character; there are several strong females within the book which was refreshing but you still see how their power and situations are limited by their connection to men or lack of connection. 
I can highly recommend The Canary Keeper, the story is original and captivating and I was really taken with Claire Carson’s evocative descriptions. 


17.3.20

BLOG TOUR: The River Home by Hannah Richell

In their ramshackle Somerset home, its gardens running down to the river, the Sorrells have gathered for a last-minute wedding.
Lucy is desperate to reunite her fractured family. Eve is fighting to keep her perfect life together. Their mother, Kit, a famous author whose stories have run dry, still seethes with resentment towards her youngest child. And Margot, who left home eight years ago under a black cloud, is forced to come face to face with her darkness…
As the family come together for a week of celebration and confrontation, their relationships are stretched to breaking point. Can you ever heal the wounds of the past? Or will it always rise up to haunt you – like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the relentless flow of a river…   
Publisher: Orion
The River Home is Hannah Richell’s third book but the first I have read by this author. It is fantastic and I was completely captivated by her story. 
Margot returns home to Somerset for her sister Lucy’s impromptu wedding, their older sister Eve has gone into planning mode and their mother Kit, a famous author, is not overjoyed at Margot’s return. Margot left for Edinburgh eight years ago after her actions shocked her whole family; she has been running away from her past ever since but now she has no choice but to return to where it all happened. 
The River Home has so many elements that I love in a book, mystery, family tensions, a ramshackle family home, an author as a central character. I was hooked from the beginning and I could not believe how many different story-lines Richell weaved throughout the story. Eve, Margot and Lucy all have their own individual plots and they are linked by their parents Kit and Ted who have a story to tell too. I was impressed with how Richell linked it all together, moving from the past to the present, showing the turmoil within the family unit. We do not find out what Margot did and why until the very end, the truth is heartbreaking and not what I had expected. 
I loved how Richell presented the dysfunctional family element, it reminded me of Fleabag a little with the simmering tensions between the different family members. I liked all of the sisters but Margot stood out. As the youngest she was almost abandoned at a really hard time in her childhood, her parents had just split up with her father leaving; her one sister had left to start her own family, the other sister had left to start her own business and her mother was off in her own world writing her book. You can’t help but feel anger at them for not realising how vulnerable Margot was. She was crying out for one of them to help her but everyone she cared for was caught up in their own lives.
Hannah Richell delves into the complex nature of family relationships, the triumphs and the tragedies that are involved. Her characters leap out at you from the page, fully formed with all their flaws. The River Home is an impressive novel that you won’t want to put down. Many thanks to Orion for inviting me to be part of this blog tour!  

11.3.20

BOOK REVIEW: The Foundling by Stacey Halls

London, 1754. Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why.
Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.
Publisher: Zaffre Books
Pages: 400
I was so impressed with Stacey Halls’ debut novel, The Familiars, I knew I would have to read her latest book, The Foundling. Set in Georgian London, the story follows Bess Bright who left her daughter Clara at the Foundling Hospital when she was just hours old. Bess saves up all the money she can over the next six years and returns to claim her daughter, only to be informed that the young girl has already been claimed by her mother. Bess does not understand, who would impersonate her and why would they take Clara?
Alexandra Callard is the complete opposite to Bess, she is a wealthy widow living in comfort with her young daughter Charlotte. She only leaves the house once a week with her daughter to attend church. For the rest of the time she keeps herself and Charlotte safely indoors, the dangers locked outside. Alexandra’s world comes crashing down when a friend persuades her to take on a nursemaid for her child, the young woman is a natural with Charlotte and Alexandra becomes fearful that her secrets will be uncovered now she has allowed a stranger into her home. 
The Foundling is beautifully written, one of my favourite elements of the book is Halls’ detailed descriptions of London. She creates such vivid images in your mind by describing little details that build up to a fantastically rich and vibrant picture. 
Bess and Alexandra are from different walks of life and both have endured great difficulties. Alexandra has a lot more power due to her wealth plus the fact that her husband is dead. Bess is in a terribly vulnerable state: poor, unmarried and mother to an illegitimate child. Her situation highlights the difference  between the social classes, however hard Bess works, she can never dream of having the life that Alexandra does.
The Foundling Hospital was a real place, I had very conflicted feelings about it. That something like this was necessary is shocking on its own. The lottery of babies being chosen is abhorrent to read about. To have reached rock bottom and made the decision to give up your own child and to have to endure being made a spectacle of for the entertainment of wealthy benefactors is just horrendous. 
The Foundling is historical fiction as its best. Halls weaves a compelling story around historical fact which makes for an enthralling read. I highly recommend this book. 
Many thanks to Zaffre books for sending me a review copy. 

6.3.20

BOOK REVIEW: A Springtime Affair by Katie Fforde

Love is in the air in the latest book from cult romance novelist Katie Fforde. 
Gilly proudly runs her own B&B, until she meets a handsome estate agent called Leo who makes her wonder if the time has come to sell up. 
Meanwhile, her daughter Helena has a budding romance of her own… with spring approaching and the season of new beginnings, could their new loves lead to their happily ever after? Publisher: Century

I have lost count of how many wonderful books Katie Fforde has written but I am always very excited when her latest one arrives.
A Springtime Affair has two central female characters, Gilly and her daughter Helena. Gilly is divorced and runs her own B&B from her beloved family home. Helena is a talented weaver and is currently living in her landlords spare room until she can find a better home for her and her loom. It helps that Jago, her landlord, is extremely attractive and very kind. Gilly has her own romantic interests too, the charismatic Leo wants to sweep her off her feet but whilst it’s extremely flattering, she’s not completely sure that she wants to be swept anywhere. 
The dynamic between Gilly and Helena is wonderful. The mother-daughter relationship can be tense and fraught and I think Katie Fforde does an excellent job of showing the battle for both parent and child when in adulthood of being protective but not overbearing or interfering. Gilly and Helena want the best for each other but they are both grown women who need to make their own decisions and mistakes. 
My favourite part of the book was the relationship that develops between Helena and Jago. It is very sincere and loving, you can see how right they are for each other. Katie Fforde throws in a corker of a twist towards the end though which I did not see coming. 
You always know you are in for a great story with Katie Fforde’s books and A Springtime Affair is bound to delight readers. I’m so pleased that she chose to explore the mother-daughter dynamic within this book as I very much enjoyed this aspect.
I highly recommend this book, you will not be disappointed.

Many thanks to Century for sending me a gifted copy of this book for review. 

29.2.20

Springtime at Hope Hall by Pam Rhodes

There's never a dull moment at Hope Hall, as its rooms are filled throughout the day with gossipy grandmas, body-popping teenagers, temperamental dancing teachers, a choir without one decent singer to their name, knitters who natter, caterers who bake glorious cakes, slimmers nibbling chocolate, and a nursery group where it's the grown-ups who are near to tears!
But it's all in a day's work for administrator, Kath, whose job it is to make sure Hope Hall offers something for everyone! Mind you, she can see that some key members of her team are struggling - like caretaker Trevor, who is nursing his beloved wife who has cancer, and Maggie, their wonderful cook, whose husband of twenty-five years has just left her for a woman half her age.
As the team works to pull off their ambitious Hope Hall Centenary Easter Monday Fayre, Kath realizes reinforcements are needed. Brash, loud and inexperienced though she may be, Kath has a feeling that Shirley might be just the ticket!
The Fayre is a triumph but when Kath's old flame comes back on the scene, she suddenly has some tough choices to make...
Springtime at Hope Hall is the first book in a delightful new trilogy centred on a Victorian church hall, the like of which can be found at the heart of life in so many towns across England - full of friends and neighbours with stories that will have you giggling one minute, and dabbing your eyes the next.

Publisher: Lion Hudson
Pages: 256

Pam Rhodes is the well known presenter of Songs of Praise, she has written several books but Springtime at Hope Hall is the first I have read. I live in a small village with two village halls and I’m an active member of our WI so I knew I would enjoy this book.
Hope Hall is almost the central character in Rhode’s story, it ties all the other characters together and provides many entertaining situations. Kath is the manager of the village hall and she is such a likeable character. She moved back to the village to care for her mother in her last years of life and decided to stay on once her mother had passed away. She missed her job as a senior hospital administrator so when the opportunity came up to manage the hall, she jumped at it. It becomes clear that it is more than a job for Kath, she cares deeply about the community and she knows how integral the hall is within village life.
I loved how Rhodes detailed the many activities that take place within the hall, from Scouts meetings, Women’s Institute, dance classes and coffee mornings. There is something for all ages and it made me think about the village halls in my own village and how they bring so many different people together. 

As I said, Kath is a lovely character but there are many more within the book. One of my favourites was Maggie, she runs the cafe and cooks many meals and cakes for people coming to the hall. Her husband has recently left her for a younger woman so she is nursing a broken heart but she won’t let down the village and throws herself into cooking and helping out. I really liked her attitude and how she wants to look after everyone around her without a care for herself. 

Springtime at Hope Hall is a lovely read and I think it’s going to be a great trilogy. I’m already looking forward to getting to know the characters more, it is going to be a charming series of books. Many thanks to Midas PR for sending me a copy of the book to review.

21.2.20

BOOK REVIEW: The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Rose Gold Watts believed she was sick for eighteen years.
She thought she needed the feeding tube, the surgeries, the wheelchair . . .
Turns out her mother is a really good liar.
After five years in prison, Patty Watts is finally free. All she wants is to put old grievances behind her, reconcile with the daughter who testified against her - and care for her new infant grandson.
When Rose Gold agrees to have Patty move in, it seems their relationship is truly on the mend. And she has waited such a long time for her mother to come home.
But is she still the pliable young girl she once was? And is Patty still as keen on settling an old score?
Because if mothers never forget then daughters never forgive.
A chilling tale of obsession, reconciliation and revenge from an incredible new talent. Publisher: Michael Joseph Pages: 352 5th March 2020
The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel is a highly impressive debut novel. It is dark, twisted, complex and bound to captivate many readers on its publication. 
Rose Gold was abused by her mother, Patty for years. Patty has Munchausen by Proxy and poisoned her daughter in order to convince everyone that she was seriously ill. Rose discovered the truth and testified against her mother, resulting in her conviction and having spent the last five years in prison. Rose is there to meet Patty on the day of her release, with her new baby, Adam. Is Rose ready to forgive her mother or does she have unfinished business? 
The story is told from Rose Gold and Patty’s perspectives and you are often left considering which of them is the most unreliable narrator? What becomes evident is that  both are a little messed up, partly through abuse and trauma and partly because it’s just how they’re wired. 
The relationship between mother and daughter is complex and Wrobel does a fantastic job of presenting the intricacies of what can be a very volatile relationship. Rose and her mother do not trust each other and this creates huge and palpable tension within the book. They are never fully comfortable with each other and the reader is left to question who will come out on top?
There are some particularly clever and unexpected plot twists towards the end of the book, I did not see the final one coming and I love it when that happens. 
The Recovery of Rose Gold is not one to miss, what a fantastic debut. 
Many thanks to Michael Joseph for gifting me a copy of this book to review, it is out on March 5th. 

BOOK REVIEW: Jog On, How Running Saved my Life

Divorced and struggling with deep-rooted mental health problems, Bella Mackie ended her twenties in tears. She could barely find the streng...