Posted in Book review, Books, New Books, Non Fiction, Reading

Sleeping With A Psychopath – Carolyn Woods

Hello Loves!

Can you believe we are in June? I’m embracing the lighter days and the gloriously summery weather we have been having in the UK this week. It’s felt like a long time coming but gosh, isn’t it a breath of fresh air really? I hope you’re all okay and embracing the longer and brighter days. Would you believe me if I told you I had to put sun cream on his week?!

Anyway, we’ve celebrated my blogs birthday well. Thank you so much for all your lovely messages – I’ve loved reading them! I’ve got a couple of posts that are in the pipeline but I wanted to share with you today a book I’ve just finished. I love it when I finish something and want to write about it straight away! Anyway, prepare yourself for the thrilling real life story of Carolyn Woods. Her novel, Sleeping With a Psychopath reads like a work of fiction. However, I find it utterly terrifying that this is actually a true story. I hope you find it as compelling as I did!

What’s it all about?
The novel opens with a prologue where Woods reflects back over the past eighteen months of her life. Her journey is one of our own worst nightmares yet she has a story to tell, a cautionary tale of the modern day. Looking back, Woods sees herself as vibrant, positive, successful and happy. Following her divorce, she rented a beautiful cottage in a Cotswold town and got herself a little job in a shop which she thoroughly enjoyed. What could possibly go wrong? She was about to find out following a visit from a handsome stranger. Little does she know that this man is about to ruin her life, take away her independence and her reasons for living.

“He has isolated me and I have become frightened, depressed and introverted. I am very confused. It feels as though someone has opened the top of my head and put a blender into my brain.”

The novel then takes us back to the beginning, June 2012, when Woods was working in the little clothes shop. As the sun was setting on another day in the Cotswolds, the door announced a visitor: immaculately dressed, handsome in his features and incredibly attractive. His name was Mark and he certainly said all the right things. Woods admits she liked him instantly and felt that he liked her back. She guessed that he was a spy – there was something very James Bond about him after all. He did nothing to dissuade this, claiming he was a rich Swiss banker. She is captivated. After all, it’s not every day a handsome stranger walks into your life and likes you! Woods decides to do something she hasn’t done before. She gives him her phone number and the end of yet another working day has come. What follows next is text conversations where plans are made and the intimacy between the two increase. Upon reflection, Woods punctuates her narrative with comments showing how naive she has been and statements that were originally said showed no signs for concern, are obvious red flags now.

“Thinking back on those first early encounters, with the knowledge I have now, I can see exactly how Mark was operating. I believe him to be a psychopath.”

The pace of the narrative increases again. This time we see lavish gifts that Mark gave to Carolyn: the brand new Audi, the need to get away, the promise of luxury wherever they went. You can see how easy it was to be swept away by the magic and mystery of it all. They started to look for a house with a budget of 2-3 million pounds. Their whole future was planned out before them quite rapidly. However, Mark took control of her mobile phone, saying that all messages had to be deleted because of people watching. He also claimed to know a lot of wealthy, powerful people of status – Hilary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, to name two. He also asked her to marry him, something which she accepted and was excited to do. But, the lavish lifestyle, the new cars and the expensive budget for a house doesn’t match up to the day where Mark asks to borrow £26,000 due to a cash flow problem. She fell deeply and head first. She was in love with him so said yes.

“As I tell my story, I can understand how astonishing people find it that I should have been taken in so easily, and looking back, I cannot believe I behaved so recklessly. But Mark is a conjuror – I was spellbound…”

For a time, life continued. The wedding was being planned, the dress exquisite and Mark was here, there and everywhere: London, Bath, Spain, Italy and Syria. Woods became more and more isolated and was spending the vast amount of time alone. More time alone meant that frustrations and anxieties grew. Mark was around less and less. His narrative becomes more alarming the deeper we progress into the novel. He appears to get injured abroad, has a brain tumour and continues to blow hot and cold with Woods. More and more money was being transferred and Woods found herself in a desperate situation: alone, broke, fragile. Trips together turned into nightmares where Mark didn’t show. Hotels that were booked for her, weren’t paid for meaning she was stranded in a foreign country. Things finally came to an end when the truth about Mark was clear. He wasn’t Mark Conway. He was Mark Acklom, a known criminal from his childhood, forever taking money from different people for promises he could not keep. Eventually, his actions caught up with him and he was arrested and imprisoned.

“Before I met Acklom, I was a happy, sociable, positive person; by the time he was through with me, I could barely function and had become deeply suspicious of people.”

By the end of her story, Woods has lost £850,000 – her entire savings pot. Despite this, it is the love and strength of her daughters and the friends who stood by her that carried her through. Justice was eventually (and legally) served but that also wasn’t as simple or ‘black and white’ as it should have been. Woods now has the opportunity to tell her story, the set the world straight and to start and rebuild her life.

“Mum has lost everything: her money, her job, her home, her security… but the one thing he couldn’t take away from her was the love of her daughters.”

Final Thoughts
I was completely captivated by this book for so many reasons. Firstly, I think Woods really discusses and highlights the gender inequality in this book. As a divorced, middled aged female, her perception is that she was ‘stupid’ and she ‘should have seen it coming’. Yet, the male businessmen that were conned were ‘sensible’ and ‘right’. I also found it interest (and horrifying) that the police both here and abroad didn’t believe her. This story is years of fighting, years of a life taken away by one person. It is easy for us to sit here and judge today and see the warning signs for that they are. But, I can see how easy it would have been. This book shows us the art of manipulation. It didn’t read like it was a true story – it reads like a fictional thriller. Personally, I think it takes a lot of bravery from Woods to be as frank, honest and as reflective as she has been.

And that’s it! Definitely read this book, especially if you love thrillers as much as I do. I am off to read something lighter now so I don’t become completely paranoid.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Big love xx

Posted in Book review, Books, NHS, Non Fiction, Poetry, Reading

Many Different Kinds of Love – Michael Rosen

Hello Loves! 💜

How are you all? I’ve missed you all terribly! I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I last posted. I can only apologise. School is manic now we have all the children back but it’s so good to see them. Also, I’ve got myself in that rut of reading (albeit much slower than usual) but not having the words to write. I’ve got some wonderful books I can’t wait to share with you all so I hope the words come soon. I’ll give it a go with this book anyway. We all know and love Michael Rosen from his wonderful children’s books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and my personal favourite, Chocolate Cake amongst others. In fact, I don’t know a child who hasn’t been brought up knowing his stories. However his latest book tells a very different story. It’s the story of his survival. It is a story of love.

What’s it all about?
This book is a mix of diary entries, messages and prose poems, sharing the journey of Michael Rosen and his battle with coronavirus. It opens with an entry on 23rd March 2020 – almost one year ago. The entry is from Michael’s wife, Emma. At this point, Michael was feeling unwell but did not have any of the symptoms that have been drilled into us. Michael continues to feel worse and worse and Emma decides to ask their friend and neighbour, a GP, to help. Whilst waiting on the doorstep, Emma checks Michael’s oxygen. The result of this is an urgent trip to A&E. Seven months later, we have the next entry, this time from the GP friend we learn exactly what happened.

“Evidence was emerging of the importance of checking oxygen saturations when assessing people with COVID-19 – I had one in my doctor’s bag at work, but had decided that it would be a good idea to buy one to keep at home. I did not realise at the time how important that decision and the timing of the delivery would be.”

Once in hospital, Michael was immediately put on an oxygen mask. Coronavirus was still the unknown – we we learning about it as we went along. 6th April 2020 and Michael was re-admitted to intensive care and placed in an induced coma. He has a 50% chance of survival. Without it he is 100% likely to die. Whilst in the induced coma, doctors and nurses make use of the empty notepad beside Michael’s bed. Inside, they share stories of what they said and did during this period of time. What shines from these pages is love and hope. We can only imagine what it has been like inside hospitals during the peak of this pandemic. To take the time to leave a note which will enable Michael to fill in the gaps of his six week coma is truly special. We see how specialists have all come together to help our beloved NHS during what has been the worst threat to us in our life time.

“It’s been lovely to look after you today on your birthday! You’ve been a popular chap today – FaceTime calls from your family and a birthday card. You were also treated to a rendition of Happy Birthday from about 15 ICU staff around your bedside and a round of applause from staff and one of the other patients! You continue to improve and I know how proud everyone is of you.”

Slowly, Michael starts to improve thanks to the love and care of the numerous NHS staff and his family. The joy from everyone when Michael can talk, when he can breathe a little better, when he can start to piece together exactly what has happened to him, is immense. The style of the book changes now to the prose poems too. In these poems, Michael is adamant that it was his wife, Emma who saved his life. She sent in a duvet to keep him warm, music that she knows he loves, sends an iPad so she can be by his side and reassure him. Anything that she thinks will help bring him back from the brink – and it does. It provides him comfort and strength; the strength he needs to survive. Over time, Michael learns to take it slowly. One day he can walk, the next he is exhausted. Emma is there as a constant. Improvement means he is one step closer to returning home.

“The family watch me. I wonder how it feels for them to see me like this. I am sorry this is me… I walk into the living room I realise that they have taught me how to walk. The gap between hospital and home has closed.”

Once home, Michael realises that March and April have gone and he has very little, if any recollection of it. In the later poems, we see brutal honesty about how this has changed Michael forever. He repeatedly says that he is not the man he was. He may have survived but he has changed inextricably. He has a good ear and a deaf ear, a good eye and a blind eye, a painful knee, one big toe with a nail and the other without and a sore nipple. His whole body has been ravaged by this virus. BUT, he is alive.

“I am getting it that there is a place between life and death. I was there for weeks.”

This book isn’t negative in any way, shape or form. It’s about celebrating life. It’s a consideration of the doctors and nurses who fought daily to keep Michael and everyone else alive. It’s about how love can pull us from the depths of despair. His body has definitely changed, his mind too. We have all been affected this past year because of the current climate. But the end of the novel shows us that we have so much to live for and so much left to do in our lives. We see Michael’s daughter getting ready for university, Michael’s son with his GCSE work on the table and we see his granddaughter, nearly two years old, playing in the garden. Life is not over yet.

“I read their diary-letters to me that they wrote in a little black book when I was in a coma. Why did these strangers try so hard to keep me alive? It’s a kindness I can hardly grasp. The words tell me that they wanted me to survive.”

Final Thoughts
Michael Rosen didn’t write this book with publication in mind – he just wanted to piece his life together. I don’t think he quite realised just how poorly he was; how close he was to death. My biggest insecurity tells me that I will never be able to do a good job with reviewing this book. I don’t quite have the words to show the kindness, resilience, determination and love shown within. I loved it on so many levels. When we hear the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’ our hearts sink. But in this book, we see the exact opposite. Read it and your heart will be filled to the core. It is magical to think that people are just this kind even when faced with the hardest challenge. For those of us who have had friends or relatives in hospital fighting this horrendous disease, it will give you a snapshot of what is happening behind those closed doors. The staff become extended members of our family because they hold the hands we can’t. We can do this. We can beat this. We will get through it. We have no other option. ♥️

Big love all xx

Posted in Book review, Books, Food, Non Fiction, Reading

Hungry – Grace Dent

Hi Loves!

How are we all? Hanging on in there?  I do hope so. We are rapidly approaching Christmas and for teachers everywhere, who are still in schools across the country, it means we get a break at long last. I genuinely can’t wait to just stop and recover. I’ve never experienced a term like it. I think I’ve only survived because I’ve had plenty of hot chocolates and delicious food which brings me perfectly to the book I want to share with you today. I read Grace Dent’s Hungry in a day because I just couldn’t put it down. I genuinely adore Grace Dent. She’s an excellent writer: witty and engaging. She also has one of the best jobs in the world (in my opinion) as she is a food critic, writing for the Guardian currently and judging on Masterchef. This book was every foodies delight!

What’s it all about?
This novel is a journey through Dent’s life via the foods that were central at that specific time. We see a love of ‘Sketty’, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, butterscotch Angel Delight, just to name a few. Like every story, it begins at the beginning, in the north of the country in Carlisle. Dent’s relationship with her father is moving, emotional and poignant. We get a snapshot of her father in 2017, obviously unwell. In the space of one page we are cast back to younger years, 1980, we see a young girl making dinner with her father. Dent’s mother focuses on home improvements as well as working. We see a very normal domestic setting which is humble and true to itself.

“You’re as thick as bloody thieves, you two.”

Like many little girls, Dent is a Brownie. However, it is obvious that she feels like she isn’t good enough, or others are favourites in comparison to her. We see a charming anecdote about a matchbox competition where the winner of the most items inside a matchbox wins a box of Terry’s Harlequin. Dent and her father work together and manage to get twenty eight items inside. However, ‘Darlene’s’ box seems to be longer and with more items inside. Dent, like the rest of us, learns that life just sometimes is not fair. 

“Somehow I manage not to say some of the best swearwords in my nine-year-old cursing artillery. I do not say ‘piss’ or ‘arse’ or the bizarrely effective showstopper ‘twat’.”

1988 brings the start of the shopping revolution: big shops! Big Asda arrives locally. What this brings is opportunities, not just for a range of food but for literally everything from clothing, toys, key cutting and prescriptions. For anyone who experienced this first hand, I imagine the description runs true. It’s something, foolishly, I’d not considered. I’m just so used to having that level of convenience around. Evidently, this was a complete game changer for everyone at the time. We had access to most things, things we didn’t even realised that we needed. 

“This meant something remarkable – that every day could feel like your birthday at ASDA if you loitered by the Thomas the Tank Engine celebration cakes at closing time, waiting for the appearance of one of Cumbria’s most influential figures: the woman in charge of the reduced sticker gun.”

As Dent grows up, she knows for sure she wants to write and she makes the most out of every opportunity she gets. She dabbles with bits, submitting them along the way to the likes of Cosmopolitan and Chat. She has a difficult decision to make (one that I absolutely can relate to), leave the North for London where there is more of a chance to be successful or stay with her family. She makes the decision to move and lands her first writing job. From here, everything changed. In 1996, at the age of twenty six, we see Dent flying first class to Austria for a freebie trip. It literally changes her life and who can blame her? Who wouldn’t want to have opportunities like these?  

“So now here I was, one year into officially being Editorial Assistant, checking in at the exceedingly grand Hotel Imperial, Vienna, being escorted by the manager to one of their largest suits for a two-night stay. He turned the key in the lock and I squeaked with joy.”

One foodie experience I think many of us can relate to in the book is the Toby Carvery. There will be a Toby Carvery near you, wherever you are in the UK. It’s known for the four choices of meat, limited vegetables and gravy. Despite Dent’s palate developing, expanding and becoming more refined, her parents are the same as ever. A Toby Carvery costs a grand total of £4 each. This is a night out for the family, somewhere he father now only feels comfortable. Despite this being a whole other world to Dent, the family moments are so important to her but it does highlight the different between London and the rest of the country. 

“George, look at her face, look at it! It’s four quid for the carvery! Four! You can’t turn your nose up at that price. Oh, she’s too posh for this now! Too posh!”

The ending of the novel is arguably the most devastatingly beautiful. It is here we see the long time coming diagnoses of dementia for her father and the impact this has on them all. We have hints throughout the book about him forgetting a few things periodically, but it turns into a much bigger issue. There are moments of complete clarity and it is like her father is really back with them. Sometimes there are moments when he has completely gone to somewhere no one can reach him. It is also the part where we learn that Dent’s mother has cancer. Two blows in quick succession means the impact on Dent personally is astronomical. 

“Dementia is really awkward. Not just painful and frightening. Embarrassing. I don’t like to be left alone with Dad… sometimes I can see the terror in his eyes…”

What is clear though, Dent and her father will always have Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut to bring them back to the moment, back to their sense of reality. The ending of this novel is one of hope, despite all the adversity. Hope for the future, hope for food to continue shaping our lives and providing us with new experiences and ultimately bringing us all together again. 

“Sometimes I feel like – am – I am – ppphhh.”
“Shall we have a bit of chocolate?”
‘I take the bar of Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut we got him for Christmas. His eyes light up.’
“My chocolate.”

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Final Thoughts
There’s so much about this book I genuinely love. If like me, you wanted to push yourself to read more non-fiction, then absolutely start here. If you love food, then this is definitely for you too! There are plenty of other anecdotes that we can all relate to in here. I hope this gives you just enough to get your taste buds going! Recently, I also attended a Zoom event where Grace discussed her book and left that feeling moved and inspired. This book is such an unsung hero. It’s painfully real. I feel so lucky to have a signed copy too! (See above!) 

Continue to stay safe and well all. 

Big love all xxx

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Posted in Book review, Non Fiction, Reading, Waterstones Book of the Month

The Language of Kindness – Christie Watson

Hello Lovelies!

Happy 2019! We’re already 12 days in so I hope it’s treating you kindly. I am reading my third book of 2019, so I’m feeling quite pleased. My reading challenge for this year is to pick one book from the Waterstones ‘Book of the Month’ list. This is one of their choices! And what a choice it is!

Today I want to share with you a review of one of the books I’ve read: The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson. This book moved me and left me feeling immense admiration of our NHS and the people who work for them. She gives nurse a voice.

What’s it all about?

Written through the eyes of Christie Watson, a nurse for 20 years, we see what life was really like during her career. The novel moves from her first days as a student days, to becoming a mentor for fresh and new nurses to being a senior nurse, leaving the profession. It all begins when Watson is seventeen years old. A touch I really liked what a quotation about nursing at the start of each chapter. This is her story.

‘Twenty years in nursing has taken so much from me, but has given me back even more.’

As a resuscitation nurse, the role is incredibly varied across the whole hospital. We see through her eyes the memory of Crash Calls, where time is crucial in saving lives. One of the first places we see is A&E. Like myself, you all have probably seen what A&E looks like in this country, particularly over the weekend. However, everyone has to pull together as a team, as shown by Watson’s narrative. Life is so fragile and delicate. A&E reminds us of this on a daily basis.

‘Every day is intensely felt and examined, and truly lived. But my hand always shakes when I push open the door – even now, after many years as a nurse.’

The decision for Watson to become a mental-health nurse was influenced by many things, especially her mother. On her first day, we as readers get to feel the same sense of trepidation as she does. Unable to sleep due to feelings of nervousness, Watson prepares herself for the first day of the rest of her nursing career. Following her mentor, Sue, Watson meets one of her first patients: Derek. Derek had stopped taking his medication and was convinced that people were trying to steal parts of his body. Over time Watson could see improvements in Derek. He seems calmer, less angry and more centred. Sadly, Derek tries to commit suicide.

‘Derek’s face is full of fear. I want to scoop him up somehow. To wrap him in a blanket and keep him safe.’

We are then taken to see the journey of new life: the labour and birth of a baby. Shadowing a midwife, Frances, we are allowed into the world of a new mum-to-be, Scarlett. The description of childbirth is all too familiar for many of us but this was Watson’s first birth. We feel her fears that scream out of the page. The description oozes accurate emotions. The retelling of these events make the strongest of us feel slightly squeamish. However, it’s the strength of women that shine through. Women are having babies all the time and midwives are the ones helping to bring them safely into this world.

‘The air is different. The world is different. My student nurse’s dress collar is wet with tears, but they continue to fall. I am in total amazement at women, at midwives, at humanity.’

Nurses know, only too well, the balance between life and death. After changing to be a children’s nurse, Watson shares an emotional day at work. The death of a child is always incomprehensible but it’s worse when you know the families. Stuart, a fellow nurse, has had a beautiful baby boy who is healthy. However, he becomes terribly sick with no signs. He’s admitted to the ward where Stuart works. The team of staff there are experts with years of clinical experience. However, this little baby doesn’t survive.

‘There is a terrifying pause, then a few seconds of silence, before she slowly shakes her head. Sometimes, even as a novice, I understand that there simply is no meaning.’

The majority of nurse show real compassion. Baby Emmanuel was born prematurely at twenty-four weeks. He’s tiny and the odds are stacked against him. However, since his birth the nurses are aware that his mother, Joy, has not yet had the chance to hold her baby son, to have the contact they need to strengthen their bond. Watson gives this mother the moment she needs. It’s high risk, he’s attached to many tools keeping him alive, but it is something that that mother needs. This scene moved me immensely. The compassion and consideration nurses have for their patients fills the room.

‘He looks at his mum for the longest time without blinking, and she looks back at him, and in a few short minutes they fall in love.’

Not every story has a happy ending, life teaches us that. Yet, nurses fill their days with care, trust and compassion. The most emotive part of the book was Watson sharing the illness (lung cancer) and subsequent death of her father. Watson isn’t the nurse this time, she is the patient’s daughter. Nurse Cheryl is there. She knows pain before her father feels it. She laughs with him, keeps the family together in their final moments. She knows to open his eyes so husband and wife can see each other. She knows to give a gentle nod of strength at the funeral. This nurse remains with the family until the very end. For Watson, her nurse instincts tell her to try and save his life, even though she knows it is futile.

‘Today I am not a resuscitation nurse. I am not even a nurse. I am a daughter. And it hurts. Everything hurts.

It is this part of the book that had me crying my eyes out. Nurses feel our pain. We are all human and the only thing we can ever be sure of is death. We see mini episodes where nurses will wait until relatives are there, know what the families need to hear. That resilience to keep going to give families their last moments together is very special. Nurses are the beating heart of the NHS.

‘Of course she was a professional. But she was more than that. To my family, she was our nurse. To my dad, she was his friend.’

The novel ends with the right now. Staff are facing burn out, exhaustion and anxiety. Watson is well aware and has seen for herself ‘bad’ nursing. There’s no excuse for patronising, dismissive and a lack of sympathy. As a patient you are vulnerable, embarrassed, feeling like you’re taking up too much time for the staff who have probably been at work for twelve hours. Yet, there is hope. For Watson’s final day as a nurse, it is just as eventful as the rest of her career: crash calls, a birth, A&E. Life goes on but the message is, we do it together.

‘Hold my hand tightly. Let us fling open the door and find whatever we find, face all the horror and beauty of life. Let us really live. Together, our hands will not shake.’

Final thoughts:

This novel reminds me so much of This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. From a nurses perspective we hear their voice. Life is hard in hospitals. Helping the very sick and vulnerable has a massive impact on those administering care. I’m grateful for those wonderful nurses who spend their lives bringing comfort to their patients. This book moved me immensely and it is a book we all absolutely have to read.

Big love. X

Posted in 60 Postcards, Book review, Non Fiction

60 Postcards – Rachael Chadwick. 

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I saw this book in the centre of a bookshelf at an independent bookseller in Moreton. It immediately caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, the Parisian style postbox on the cover. Secondly, the fact that postcards are central to the development of the text. Paris is a deep love of mine and I did think I was one of the few people left that sent postcards. Naturally it appealed. I was incredibly curious!

I don’t want to ruin this hidden gem for anyone who hasn’t read it, but an outline of the plot will surely tempt you in. The story starts with a trip to Paris. Shortly after we find out that Rachael’s mother has cancer and sadly passes away 16 days after diagnosis. The last birthday present she received were these Eurostar tickets to Paris. So with a group of friends she set off with a mission in mind – to spread the love and message of her irreplaceable mother, leaving hand written postcards all around the city asking those who found them to get in touch.

Then she receives emails and the projects grows. A delightful touch is the selection of photographs in the centre. For someone to include photographs and the story of their family is incredibly brave and inspirational. It is becoming increasingly apparent in our every day lives that we all know someone who has suffered from cancer. A credit of this book is how it deals with it, and more importantly the focus on the legacy that is left behind.

I read this book in 18 hours. Yes I know it’s sad to count! But this rarely happens. Every now and then you find a book that grips you, that takes you in and makes you a part of the plot. I wanted to hug Rachael and all the people mentioned in the book. I laughed with her, cried with her, lived every moment in that book with her and I felt the love for Paris resurface within me. I’ve not felt so compelled to continue reading for a while.

An incredibly honest book, full of love. As someone who has also lost somebody close to me I related to this book in so many ways. What an inspirational way to make a tribute to someone. I almost wish I thought of this myself!

So for anyone who hasn’t read this book yet make sure you do. Be armed with tissues and a postcard (instructions on the front page). I couldn’t recommend it enough. Like the gap it left in the book shelf after I bought it, it will leave a gap in your heart if you do not experience this text.

Big love X