Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Summer I Turned Pretty – Jenny Han

Morning Fellow Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying the sunshine. It’s definitely getting me into the summer spirit and I wanted to use that for my reading challenge this month *ignores the fact that there’s four weeks of school left…* I decided to go with Read a book that’s full of sunshine for this month. Personally, to me there’s only ever going to be one winner: Jenny Han. I absolutely adored the Lara Jean series so I knew I would love the next trilogy she’s written. Of course, I’m talking about The Summer I Turned Pretty. I hope you love it as much as I did!

What’s it all about?

The protagonist of this novel is Isabel ‘Belly’ Conklin, her brother Steven and their best friends, Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Belly’s mother and Jeremiah and Conrad’s mother, Susannah are best friends and every summer they head to the beach house. All of these summer breaks lead to one thing: love. Belly is just realising how beautiful she is and how she is changing into a young woman. She’s only ever had eyes for Conrad but feelings for Jeremiah occur meaning that we have a love triangle between the three of them.

‘It feels like nothing else exists outside of that world, this moment. There’s just us. Everything that happened this past summer, and every summer before it, has led up to this. To now.’

The mothers, Susannah and Laurel, are best friends. Yet, despite this novel being a coming of age story about Belly, there is an ever increasing sadness and feeling that something is wrong with Susannah. She seems to be asleep more, spending more time in her room and more sadness around her. She promised Belly the summer of her life, seeing how beautiful she was, yet the sadness around her and her mother is hard to go unnoticed. Susannah is the character who seems to have all the answers, who can see things differently. Everyone turns to her and adores her. Her boys are fiercely protective of her.

‘She and my mother hugged first, fierce and long. My mother looked so happy to see her that she was teary, and my mother was never teary.’

Daughter to Laurel, Belly hasn’t really known her own beauty until now. She’s fiercely headstrong and a talent in the pool. But the boys only see her as a little sister, much to her frustration. The older of the two brothers, Conrad is a deep and intense character. There are times when he is thoroughly frustrating because he’s so difficult to understand. However, the moment came when things felt a little different between Belly and him. She’s always been interested in Conrad but he’s so closed off and emotionless that she never really knew where she stood with him. Does he even notice her?

‘The air felt different all of a sudden. It felt charged, electric, like I had been zapped by a thunderbolt.’

What about Jeremiah? He’s presented as the golden boy of the family, the younger of the two brothers and the one who is arguably the most loyal to Belly. However, he does become frustrated about living in the background. He too develops feelings for Belly and she does likewise. What does this mean for the group? To make matters more confusing, one summer they share a kiss, Belly’s first. What does this mean for them? Wasn’t it Conrad who she hoped her first kiss would be with?

‘He took. a deep breath of air and puffed up his cheeks, and then he blew it out so hard the har on his forehead fluttered. I could feel my heart start to pound – something was going to happen. He was going to say something I didn’t want to hear. He was going to go and change everything.’

Also in the mix is Cam. Another summer Belly meets Cam and he tells her how beautiful she is. They have a summer relationship, hanging out together, having fun together and sleeping in his hoodie. Does this work out? After all, he is the only one to notice all the amazing things about Belly and to tell her all of them too. Just the fact he notices her, really makes a difference to the group.

‘Things had been weird with me and Conrad and me and Jeremiah – an impossible thought crept its way into my head. Was it possible they didn’t want me with Cam? Because they, like, had feelings for me? Could that even be? I doubted it. I was like a little sister to them. Only I wasn’t’

So who gets the girl in the end? That’s for you to read and find out!

Final Thoughts

I loved this novel so much. It made me remember back to when I was younger and summer seemed to give you all the opportunities you could ever want. There’s a reason why YA is a booming genre and that’s because it’s honest and real. Jenny Han is an exceptional writer – I love her books and this one doesn’t disappoint. I cannot wait to get my hands on the other two books in this trilogy because I have to see what happens to the trio. This book gave me all I wanted and needed and more regarding summer vibes. I absolutely loved it.

It’s back to exam marking for me and admiring the summer weather from inside. I hope you all enjoy it! Until next time.

Big Love xxx

Blog Tour: The Wild Year – Jen Benson

Hi Book Lovers!

I hope you’re all well and had a restful weekend. Today I’m very excited to share with you another blog tour I’m part of. This time, the book really appeals to my restless side. Have you ever just sat back and felt that you want to change jobs or move house or make a big decision in some way? Are you a lover of the outdoors, adventure and camping? Then this book is very much for you! A huge thank you to @jenandsim, @aurumpress, @clairemaxwell and @quartobooksuk for the chance to be a part of this phenomenal book tour! I hope you love the book as much as I do!

What’s it all about?
Starting at home in Wiltshire, the novel is Jem’s voice and narrative. We hear about her husband, Sim and her children, E and H and their experiences in the great outdoors in their ‘Wild Year’ where they completely and utterly changed their lives. The pressure of mounting debt and having a family led the couple to making some drastic decisions. Surely life can be much easier than their current life? And more importantly be able to live by their own rules too. The joy that camping brought during various weeks in the year on holiday, surely that could be replicated and repeated long term? So their journey begins…

‘Camping was a basic way to live, but there was such joy in its simplicity. And such freedom in it being all ours: our warmth, our shelter and privacy, wherever we chose to pitch out tent. It was in that moment that I felt the first tinglings of a thought that made my heart race, and my mind jump at the possibility of hope…’

Having an idea is one thing, what was next needed was a plan. Thankfully, with the help from friends, family and kind strangers, various opportunities were created: book writing, a roof over their heads during bad weather, new friends along the way. The destinations were just as exciting, places like Dartmoor, Jurassic Coast, New Forest, the Cotswolds and the Lakes. They bought the biggest tent and gathered together all the items they would need for their experience. As you read the book, there are many lessons learnt all through experience. I found the honestly quite humbling and refreshing to be honest and supportive for those who wish to try something like this. The biggest barrier was always the weather. There’s nothing as unpredictable as English weather! However, this gave the couple the opportunity to regroup and start again, enabling them to come back even stronger.

‘It was hard not to feel despondent as we dragged everything out of the truck and tried to find places to hang it all out to dry. We were lucky that no rain was forecast for the next week, so we spread the tend out in the little field behind the cottage and spent hours sorting through the kit… In the end, destruction wasn’t as bad as we had feared.’

After the hiccups with the weather and potential damage to the tent, the family finally got going again and Christmas was soon around the corner. The family had a wholesome Christmas together, embracing their new lives and experiences. Despite the setting being dark and cold, it was one of the best Christmases because it was new and exciting. It meant more to them being part of the natural world rather than the commercialised one. As time rolled by, the young children also learnt more about the natural world they live in.

‘I noticed she was becoming fractionally more independent as each day passed, like a flower that starts as a tiny bud, wrapped up within itself, but in time opens its arms to embrace and engage with the world.’

After twelves months of camping, the Wild Year was coming to an end. The emotional pressure, the experiences, the growth in both Jen and Sim as well as their children E and H have been so worthwhile. I found myself gripped to this book because there is plenty that I could do to be more appreciative of the natural world. I found it remarkable and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in not only reading this novel, but being the first stop of the blog tour.

‘…it was a time unlike any other in our lives. One that changed everything.’

Final Thoughts
I really loved this book for so many reasons. I always respect those who want to change their lives for the better and Jen and Sim absolutely did that. They took all the challenges they faced and turned them into learning experiences. I was surprised to learn that it took Jen five years to collate all the experiences together and write this book. I admire her as a mother, a woman and a writer. What this family achieved is nothing less than a lesson in resilience. It was a great read and one that I’ll be sharing with my friends and family.

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Honeymoon – James Patterson & Richard Roughan

Hey Loves!

I hope you’re all well and have had a wonderful weekend. Mine has been really restful thankfully and I am thrilled to say that the English exams are now over! I can rest a little before the examination marking begins next weekend. I’m a little bit late in reviewing this but I accidentally left my first copy of the book at my parents house so I had to order another one. Anyway, it was delivered Friday and here we are! So for my reading challenge I decided for May to pick: Read a story written by more than one author. For those of you are devoted followers of my little space on the internet will know that I love James Patterson. Recently, I’ve found more and more books where he’s co-authored with some very high profile people, namely people like: Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton and Dolly Parton, just to name a few. The book I chose (which I found in my beloved telephone box book exchanges) is Honeymoon. All I’ll say to begin with is this is another Patterson classic! I hope you enjoy.

What’s it all about?
Nora Sinclair is an interior designer. She is wealthy, talented, beautiful and has an equally talented and handsome partner. So why is Agent John O’Hara from the FBI interested in her life? Typical Patterson, this is a novel where nothing really is as it seems. Shortly after she becomes engaged to Connor, he suffers some unknown fit in his Westchester mansion, leading to his death. Nora plays the part of the devastated girlfriend, visibly distressed, emotional and broken. Yet, what is happening internally is quite different.

‘It was showtime. Nora calmly walked over to the phone and dialled. She reminded herself; the cleverest liars don’t give details. After two ring a woman picked up and said, “911 Emergency.”

Connor has died before their wedding, Nora is nothing more than his girlfriend. She gets nothing from his death. Enter Craig Reynolds, a representative for Centennial One Life Insurance. It appears Connor took out a life insurance policy in her name. Despite this obvious good news, Nora is wary of an investigation or attracting any attention to Connor’s death. Centennial One is a front for the FBI and Nora is being monitored closely. The next revelation takes place in Manhattan where Nora has gone to meet a client except she is no longer Nora, she is Olivia. One person, multiple identities.

‘Nora’s profession was never really in doubt, though. It was the rest of her life that was in question. Her two lives; her secrets. But there was no proof of anything yet.’

A pattern begins to develop. Another city, another name, another man. But the pattern seems to be that the men in her life never seem to live for long. Nora, or is it Olivia, is devastatingly attractive and never seems to have a problem finding a wealthy and attractive man to spend time with. Agent John O’Hara, investigating Nora under cover is no proof against her wiles. He finds himself drawn irresistibly into her orbit.

‘Nora was an absolutely beautiful woman who’d presented me with an amazing offer. It took every ounce of willpower to remind myself why I was with her in the first place.’

Who is the real Nora Sinclair? As the plot unfolds, we find more of her secrets revealing themselves. Each revelation seems to raise more questions rather than providing any answers. The FBI are circling and getting closer and closer but Nora is a woman with a mission and a plan. Will John O’Hara uncover her secrets? Or will her deadly attraction prove fatal for him as well? Unbeknown to him, while he is trying to find the real Nora Sinclair, she is busy uncovering his own secrets which could lead to an uncomfortable confrontation.

Final Thoughts
Nothing is what it seems with this book and during the first part I was confused myself about who Nora really is. But, it does work itself out in a thrilling, pacy read. I really enjoyed reading it and I loved having such a powerful, intelligent and attractive female protagonist. This girl really means business! One of the things I love about Patterson’s novels is that you cover a lot of ground quite quickly; there are no spare words. I am loving the collaborations too and finding out new names to keep an eye open for. Overall, a timeless thriller by one of my favourite writers. Loved it!

See you next time for more reading and more exploring.

Big Love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

Hello Everyone!

I hope you’re all okay. I’m back at work now but definitely looking forward to the bank holiday weekend! Hopefully the weather will pick up again and it’ll be glorious instead of chilly… I had heard that May apparently is meant to be the coldest on record! I jolly well hope not… I need some sunshine in my life.

Today I want to share with you my category and book choice for April. I love my Book Bingo and I’m super proud of it. It’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone which is really what it’s all about. For April I decided to pick: Read a classic you should have read by now. I don’t know about you but I always find pressure with the classics, like I’m meant to have read them and I even get embarrassed when someone mentions a classic I haven’t read. That being said, I did study a number of them when I was at university so this category did throw up some challenges. Overall, I decided to read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck’s work as they really do depict a specific historical time period but I’ve only ever read (and taught) Of Mice and Men. This is becoming increasingly controversial so I have relished the opportunity to reach out into more of his work.

What’s it all about?
On the surface, the plot is really simple: a group of men want to throw a party for their friend. However, this book is so much more than that. Its role is to capture the feelings and the people all located in one place: the cannery district of Monterey, California. The people there are down on their luck, lacking opportunity and those who choose for other reasons to not live in the more respectable area of town.

“The inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

The first character we meet is Lee Chong, the owner of the Lee Chong Grocery. On the surface, it appears like he values profits over people however, the actions from Chong that he values people more than money. Steinbeck uses Chong to show how things aren’t as they seem and people can have different personas. Following Chong, we are then introduced to Mack and the boys. Again on the surface they are known to be pleasant guys and good hearted. But, they do have a tendency to take advantage of people and situations to benefit themselves. They refuse to live according to the conventions of society to become ‘successful’ in terms of the world view.

‘A little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.”

Arguably, the most important character is Doc. He is different to the others and is viewed which such high regard. He’s unlike the others too as he is educated and cultured. He is the one that the others look up to. He is always there to offer help and support. He gives advice to those who need it and also provides medicine or other medical services should they be required too. His nature inspires Mack and the boys to try and give Doc a party to thank him for everything he does for them all. There is one issue though: money. The boys take up odd jobs with none of them quick to take up anything long term. The main job is to capture some frogs.

‘He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him.’

Unfortunately, the party doesn’t quite go to plan to begin with. Sadly, Doc returns home to find his place trashed – the door hanging on its hinges, the floor littered with broken glass, phonograph records – some broken, some stolen, mostly littering the floor. Doc naturally is furious and doesn’t really understand what has happened to cause this. After he’s calmed, Doc apologises to Mack for his reaction. Mack reveals the intentions of the men and how it went wrong. Mack does seem to be someone who has regrets himself and is quite a reflective character. He promises to pay for the damages that was caused during a lengthy speech. But, Doc stops him because he knows him too well and Mack knows he is completely right.

“You’ll think about it and it’ll worry you for quite a long time, but you won’t pay for it.”

This turn of events mean that the atmosphere is awkward and uncomfortable. There’s friction and tension but when Darling, the beloved puppy becomes poorly and close to death, Mack and the men are forced to make a change. Darling is eventually saved and this gives the men a new lease of life. It is joy and not despair that is running through Cannery Row. As a result, the men decide to throw Doc another party – this time a proper one like he deserves. It. becomes an effort of all the people of Cannery Row with each of them working hard to give Doc a gift. Steinbeck uses this to show that these men, despite their circumstances have good within them and they have the ability to consider others as well as themselves. Doc finds out about the party and decides to make his own contributions. He brings his best records and also orders copious amounts of food for them all. The party ends up being a huge success – one filled with life and joy. The next morning brings quiet and stillness. Whilst cleaning up from the party, Doc remembers a poem that evoked such emotion from his guests the night before. He is in a state of equilibrium and calm. Life is fragile but so so valuable. The people around you make it count.

‘There are two possible reactions to social ostracism – either a man emerges determined to be better, purer, and kindlier or he goes bad, challenges the world and does even worse things.’

Final Thoughts
Short and powerful, I find Steinbeck just an utterly honest writer. He focuses on the men of the time period and shows how the context shapes them. I found Doc delightful but I actually really liked Mack and the boys too. I really need to devote more time to reading more Steinbeck because I do really enjoy it. I’m also really pleased about getting another classic under my belt too! American Literature is one of my favourite things so I really need to devote more time to American writers too. Lots of room for improvement here…

I hope you’re all well. I’ll see you next time for another book related post, I’m sure! Roll on the bank holiday weekend too!

Big Love all xxx

Rachel’s Holiday – Marian Keyes

Hello Fellow Book Lovers!

I hope you all had a lovely Easter and a wonderful time reading plenty and making memories with the people you love most. I did manage to read a couple of books from the pile – I did add an image to my previous post so I’m hoping to squeeze in a couple more blog posts before I return to work! Last night, I stayed up to silly o’clock because I couldn’t put my book down. I was desperate to see what happened. The book I am talking about is of course, Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes.

Now I have to admit that I am a little late to the Marian Keyes party but a friend at work really was gushing about this book and Again, Rachel so I thought I’d give it a go. It really didn’t disappoint. I loved it and completely devoured it. I cannot believe it has taken me this long to get to it! Anyway, I just have to review it so enjoy!

What’s it all about?
As the title suggests, the novel centres around Rachel Walsh, a twenty seven year old, living what she believes is her best life in New York. She lives with her flat mate and best friend, Brigit, believes she is fat and ugly and spends a lot of time at parties or out doing recreational drugs. Rachel doesn’t see this as a problem but Brigit and her boyfriend, Luke, see the dramatic change in her. It all comes to a head when she ends up in a hospital bed after nearly killing herself. As a result, Rachel is ordered home to Ireland by her mother and father and placed into rehab, the Cloisters.

“You only grow up by living through the shit that life throws at you.”

The novel alternates between her New York life and the reasons why she got so heavily into drugs and her time at Cloisters. Sister Josephine who runs the group sessions, in Rachel’s opinion, lives to make her life miserable. The reality is that her role is to get them to face up to the reasons why they are addicts, to see the patterns of behaviour in order to prevent relapses. For the most part, Rachel doesn’t believe that she has a problem. Ever increasingly isolated, Rachel pines after Luke but is distracted by another resident: Chris. Whenever she felt down, he always seemed to be around with his wise words.

“It never rains but it damn well pours and I was afraid I’d be washed away in the deluge.” 

There are two key turning points for Rachel whilst at the Cloisters. The first is the visit of her parents during a group session. The quick fire questioning from Josephine evokes a number of emotions from Rachel – mainly rage. Her dad is quick to dismiss it as the ‘mother’s work’ and her mother is more concerned with how it looks to everyone else. It becomes a natural bone of contention. The second turning point is again during a group session but this time the visitors are Luke and. Brigit. Again, Rachel began with rage and fury about the amount of drugs and the range of drugs she was talking. Also, behaviours that she thought was hidden are also revealed, such as stealing. Ultimately, Rachel was at rock bottom.

“My life was a wreck. I had nothing, no material possessions, unless debts counts. Fourteen pairs of shoes that were too small for me was all I had to show after a lifetime of profligate spending. I hadn’t a job. I hadn’t any qualifications. I’d achieved nothing with my life. I’d never been happy. I had no husband or boyfriend.”

By the end of the novel, Rachel is open, reflective and honest with herself. She has gone full circle with regards to her drug taking and the rationale about it. She gets herself a little job, she seems closer with her sisters and parents and is ready to start her next chapter. It isn’t easy and she does slip up along the way but the lessons and advice from the Cloisters, ring in her ears. She can and will succeed.

“Talk is cheap, but look at how people behave, not at what they say.” 

Final Thoughts
Like I said, I stayed up to finish it because I had to know if Rachel made it. Despite her flaws, I still loved her character. In fact, her flaws made her all the more special to me. There were things I could relate to: the feeling of inadequacy, fear of what people think and ultimately the fear of failure. I am a complete Marian Keyes convert and will be keeping my eyes out for her rest of her novels. I loved it and I love Rachel.

Until next time…

Big love xxxx

The Mad Women’s Ball – Victoria Mas

Hello Book Lovers!

I’m back today to share with you another amazing book I’ve just finished reading. I feel like I am on a bit of a roll at the moment and like I’m making a good dent in my huge pile of books. Long may this continue!

The book I want to share with you today is The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas. This book has a stunning cover (there’s a theme starting…) and focuses on two strong female characters. Taking us back to Paris in 1885, this short novel packs a huge punch and has left me wanting more. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did.

What’s it all about?
The Salpetriere Asylum: Paris, 1885 where the women are deemed mad or hysterical. However, things really are not as they seem and behind each woman lies a story of betrayal, misunderstanding and fear of what they really know. Under the control of Doctor Charcot, his public displays of hypnotism is enthralling for the audiences who appear. But what about these women? Why are they there? Why are they societies outcasts and who makes that decision?

The two leading ladies of the novel are Eugenie and Genevieve. Their stories become entwined as each woman needs the other in order to survive.

‘Madwomen fascinate and horrify. Were these people to visit the asylum for the late-morning rounds, they would surely be disappointed.’

We learn more about Genevieve first. The head nurse at the asylum, she is stoic and proud. She takes her role at the asylum incredibly seriously and feels like she really is supporting the advance in medicine by working with Doctor Charcot. The women are becoming particularly agitated because of the annual Lenten Ball (Mad Woman’s Ball) the event where the rich come and observe these weak women. For the women, it is their small window of opportunity – to be seen and heard. Head Nurse Genevieve has her own quirk, like the women she cares for – she writes letters to her dead sister. There are hundreds that are stored in the bottom of her wardrobe. It means she feels close to her and she still can live on.

‘She gets up and opens the wardrobe, in which several cardboard boxes are stacked next to the dresses on their hangers. Genevieve picks up the topmost box. Inside are more than a hundred envelopes like the one she is holding.’

Eugenie is incredibly gifted and what you would call, a woman before her time. When I was reading this I was completely taken with her but also terribly afraid for her. My fears would soon become reality. The first incident of note was when she found her grandmother’s pendant after being guided by her dead grandfather. After some forceful probing mixed with love and respect for her grandmother, she reveals that she can see dead people. She confides in her grandmother but ultimately this would turn out to be a mistake. Despite this, Eugenie knows that she isn’t alone and that other people can do what she can, but it is all too much for her father who sends her to the asylum and disowns her.

“No one talks to dead unless the devil is involved. I will not have such things under my roof. As far as I am concerned, I no longer have a daughter.”

Meanwhile at the asylum, spirits are high as everyone is getting ready for the ball. Whilst setting in, the two women are not quite sure how to take each other. However, Eugenie knows about the letters Genevieve has been writing to her sister. Alarmed at first, curious second, Genevieve is unsure what to do. She’s torn by wanting that connection with her sister but also considering her position within the hospital. She absolutely cannot be a part of this ‘madness’. And yet…

‘Eugenie’s eyes are closed now, her tone changed. Although her voice is the same, she speaks in a monotone as though reciting a text that has no meaning. Terrified, Genevieve retreats, pressing herself against the door.’

The relationship between the two women change and they are no longer nurse/patient. Genevieve believes her and feels that she needs to repay the kindness shown to her. The two women help each other, sacrifice themselves for each other. The ball isn’t going to the be the same this year. Eugenie will finally get an opportunity for a fresh start away from the family that betrayed her. Genevieve makes the ultimate sacrifice.

“Existence is fascinating, don’t you think?”

Final Thoughts
This book is incredible. We see the horrors of how women used to be treated, just because they thought differently or believed differently. We see the value of friendship and sacrifice. We see the need and want for spirits to guide and support. We also see the fears of the time too. Life was very different in 1880s Paris and despite this being a fictional piece, it is clear that it is influenced. The overall thing I enjoyed most was the fact that women reign supreme and stand tall despite being different and wanting to challenge boundaries and constraints of the time. These 200 pages are beautiful and essential. What a stunning book.

Big love xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! The Lost Apothecary – Sarah Penner

Hello Loves!
It’s finally Easter break! 🐣 I am honestly so relieved and I had to admit, I was questioning if I would make it – I’ve never felt so stressed or exhausted… The mornings this week have been tough – but I did it and now I have two weeks of rest, recovery, reading and napping. Hopefully the weather as well will last – there’s nothing better than Spring sunshine. Easter is a huge event for my family too so I’m really excited about that also! Good things are approaching!

Anyway, this post is to hopefully make amends for not being successful in my reading challenge last month. I picked the category: Read a book of the month (Waterstones or equivalent). I’d started four books for this and failed them all for different reasons. Then, I realised that I’d read the books from the Waterstones book of the month so I then branched out to research more books of the month. I stumbled across the Goodreads list and the rest, as they say, is history. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner was on my shelf after being gifted by a friend and that decided it. Fate some may say! I absolutely LOVE this book so I hope you all do too!

On with the review!

What’s it all about?
First of all, the book is visually stunning. The purples and gold really make it a picture on your shelf. Moving away from the look of it, the plot is also stunning too! I love this book and it will be one that I gift to my friends as well. It’s a book that you have to read.

Each chapter alternates between the three main women: Caroline, Nella and Liza and their respective time periods, modern day and 1791. Despite being over two hundred years apart, the lives of these two women are about to be linked forever. The novel opens with Nella, a brief chapter about a letter, a desperate woman, a remedy and a history to the apothecary. Her mother’s before her, the shop historically was a place for women to come to cure their maladies. However, things had taken a much more sinister turn: murder. What had led Nella to this point? There’s only mere references, but a broken heart is evident. As a result, a decision was made, no other woman would hurt like she did.

‘Beneath the ink strokes of my register hid betrayal, anguish…and dark secrets.’

Number 3 Back Alley is the geographical location of the shop. However, it is hidden and is only known about by word of mouth. The front is an empty room with a sack of grain and a small hole for Nella to see who is there. Behind the scenes were huge amounts of herbal ingredients, glass jars, grinding stones and a notebook with the names and ingredients administered over the years. Nella’s mother at the start, with her continuing the work of the apothecary. One day, a charming and interesting girl arrives with a note from her mistress. Her husband was having an affair and that woman needs to go. Instinctively, Nella knew what to do but the child unnerved her. Death and children shouldn’t mix. The remedy = a poisoned chicken egg.

‘My mother had held tight to this principle, instilling in me from an early age the importance of providing a safe haven – a place of healing for women. London grants little to women in need of tender care; instead, it crawls with gentleman’s doctors, each as unprincipled and corrupt as the next. My mother committed to giving women a place of refuge…’

Caroline found herself in London for what should have been a romantic weekend for her ten year wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, things are not good with her husband James as she discovered his infidelity. Finding herself in London meant that she needed to make her own way and her own plans. Curiosity getting the better of her, she meets Alfed, a mudlarker. In the dead of night she heads towards the Thames, unknowing what she will find but the call is much stronger than she realised. She’s given a quick piece of advice: look for inconsistencies and finding something is fate. Despite the smell, she finds a quirky glass vial which raises more questions than answers. She feels a pull to find out more. Her London trip is now focused around this small, glass item and its story. Alf also introduces Caroline to Gaynor, his daughter at the British Library. A budding historian herself, the two become the best of friends.

‘Places and people, I thought to myself. I could feel the change in myself at this very moment: the discontent within me seizing the possibility of adventure, an excursion into my long-lost enthusiasm for eras past.’

As the novel progresses, the lives of these three women become more intertwined. Caroline is busy asking questions and researching the contents of the glass vial, Nella and Liza are busy trying to limit the damage that is being caused. Whilst all mixtures before have gone well, the issue of Lady Clarence, her husband and his mistress did not. The wrong person died and the bottle had the same image of a bear and the address on the back. This discrete apothecary, fill of its potions and its secrets was now at risk of becoming public knowledge.

‘At present that seemed like a dream; with my mistake, I might have doomed her and all of us within the pages of her book. I thought again of the many names I’d traced in the register a couple of days ago, I had darkened the ink strokes in order to preserve and protect the names of the women… Now, I feared I hadn’t preserved and protected anything at all.’

The end of the novel is simply stunning. No spoilers here but the I adore the end – the loyalty, the companionship and most of all, the love and respect between these women. This history of the past, the women and their stories have helped shaped Caroline’s future. Gaynor becomes a true friend of Caroline, she (re)discovers who she really wants to be outside the confines of a marriage and the history of the women and their need for the apothecary shop at 3 Back Alley lives on. The title may be the ‘lost’ apothecary, but Caroline has certainly made sure it is found now.

‘I remembered Batchelor Alf’s words on the mudlarking tour, about how finding something on the river was surely fate. I hadn’t believed it at the time, I now knew that stumbling upon the tiny blue vial was fate – a pivotal turn in the direction of my life.’

Final Thoughts
There are not enough words for how much I loved and enjoyed this book. Sarah Penner is a name I will be keeping an eye out for in the future, that’s for sure. This book is perfect for showing the strength of women, what it means to stand by each other and the lengths women will go to to protect those around them. It also shows the devastating effect of being hurt and how that changes people. After all, it was that betrayal that changed Nella. I also loved that the action truly centres around a book that has been passed down from mother, to daughter and now to Caroline. Stunningly beautiful, for me this book is a masterpiece.

Big Love all xxxxx

Tom Clancy’s The Division: Recruited – Thomas Parrott Book Tour

Hey Loves!

Today is very exciting. I’m part of my first ever book tour!! I really was so thrilled to be considered and I’ve loved every second. Thanks so much Aconyte Books! I loved the sound of this one so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I really hope you enjoy it too!

What’s it all about?
This is a dystopian novel about a future ravaged by a virus…. I know! Close to home. However, this is not a book that bears any resemblance to the current situation with COVID-19. In this bleak vision of the future a virus, sometimes referred to the Dollar Flu or the Green Poison, has ravaged society across the globe causing total system collapse.

We start the story with our heroine, Maira Kanhai, living with a group of other survivors in a community they call Athena. Life is tough, they scavenge food to survive, a watch is kept day and night to avoid other groups who are willing to take by force what they might want. But Athena is slightly isolated from the mad violence that exists in the city, they are on the outskirts. As the months go by it gets harder and harder to find food.

Maira decided not to dance around the subject. “As some of you may already know, and others may have heard, we have a supply situation on our hands.”

Maria’s previous service in the Navy has led her to being nominated as Chief of Security for their little community but it also means she has carried the blame and anger from some when things haven’t worked out. In an ill fated attempt to secure weapons with which to protect themselves, Maira led a number of volunteers into an ambush which resulted in the deaths of a number of community members – that night still haunts her and eats away at her conscience.

As the community seeks further afar for food they attract the attention of a murderous gang called the Outcasts. The outcasts claim to carry the virus and want to infect all the survivors. They are violent, aggressive and attack the Athena community. Despite the defences Maira has established, the Outcasts quickly force them fall back. It becomes clear they cannot hold out but then help arrives. Three agents from the mysterious and secretive Division use their hi tech government weapons to defeat the Outcast attack although not without losses of their own.

Maira stared. Her mouth worked silently. At last, she managed to rasp into the radio. “South post is gone. The way to Athena is wide open. Anyone with a gun, we need you. Now.

The Division agents were not there to save Athena, they are also concerned about the supply situation. They believe something is blocking the roads and supply routes. Their mission is to get supplies moving into the city again. Carrying the weight of yet more deaths under her command, Maira volunteers to join them, hoping to bring the food Athena desperately needs.

The novel tracks the progress of Maira and the Division agents as they track down the problem. As you might expect things get tough, maybe even desperate at times. They uncover totally unexpected problems and also make new allies who will work to help them.

The story is fast paced and as the plot moves along we get to understand what motivates Maira as well as uncovering more of her past. Details about the shadowy Division and the agents they employ begin to emerge, are they the good guys they at first appeared? In order to find out you’ll need to read it, I’m pretty sure you won’t be bored.

Final Thoughts
Well, there you have it! My first book tour. How exciting!! I really hope you enjoyed this one as much as I did. I can’t wait to be a part of more of these in the future. It’s a really wonderful way to connect with more wonderful readers and share some great books.

Big love all xxx

Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Mrs England – Stacey Halls

Hello Loves!
Well, with me, there’s always a story to tell and today is no exception. I’m a bit behind with this post because I had flu over half term and then this week I managed to drop a desk on my foot. My foot is now an interesting colour to say the least and my toes resemble sausages more than anything else. Thank goodness I managed to see the wands before this happened! As a result, I’m just a bit slower than usual so I apologise that my book choice for February has taken me so long to get up. I’ve also broken my ‘I can’t buy anymore books’ ban because I felt sorry for myself. Never mind – onwards!! Thankfully, it is a brilliant one so I hope this makes it worthwhile!

For February, my choice was: Read a book that takes you back in time. I love novels that transport us back to another place and another time. The writer that came to mind for this was Stacey Halls. I absolutely adored The Familiars, which I read for a previous reading challenge. I still haven’t got to The Foundling but I’d got a beautiful hardback, signed copy of Mrs England so I decided to pick that. On with the review!

What’s it all about?
Despite the title of the novel being Mrs England, at first it appears that the character of Ruby, or Nurse May, is more important. As the novels opens, Ruby has to make the difficult decision to leave her position caring for the children of Mr and Mrs Radlett as they embark on a new adventure in America. Despite not seeing her family very often, Ruby doesn’t feel like she can leave the country, despite her love for the children in her care. Therefore, she has to head back to the Norland institute in the hope of finding another position. It’s slim pickings apart from one advert for a family in West Yorkshire. Four children, two boys and two girls, belonging to the mill owner, Mr Charles and Mrs Lilian England. And so our story begins at Hardcastle House.

‘The room was so quiet I could hear my heart breaking, and it sounded like a daisy snapping at the stem.’

Ruby throws herself into her work despite the initial frostiness within the house. All but Mr England seem to be distrusting of Ruby but he sole focus is the children: Millie, Rebecca (Decca), Saul and baby Charley. You have this feeling that she’s just walked into something and it’s there, hanging in the air. There are clear differences between the girls and the boys of the household. Ruby becomes closest to Decca as she reminds her of her own sister Elsie. The family unit and Ruby fall into a rhythm and life settles down a bit. Things do seem a little strange though, unsettling and like something just isn’t quite right. However, the children do get the opportunity to leave about being a blacksmith from Mr Sheldrake. This is a very exciting time for them all but it does end rather strangely. Ruby discovers a letter that was given to Decca for her mother. This is the start of something, she just isn’t sure what that something is.

‘My mind buzzed with possibilities, but kept returning to one. Either Mrs England was not expecting a letter from the blacksmith Mr Sheldrake, or she was. In which case they were in correspondence. Which meant… What did it mean?’

Ruby is thrown into turmoil about what to do. She finds herself in a very precarious position but desperately feels the need to speak with Mrs England. What she gains from that conversation makes her think further. Yet, she is a professional and her employment means that she has to look after the children, so looking after the children is what she does. Until one unfortunate day when events take a turn for the worst. Decca is sent away to school, sending shock to the household and upset to Ruby. Life continues but it isn’t quite the same and the uneasy feeling only increases. Mrs England seems completely under the control of her husband; she doesn’t seem to be allowed her own thoughts and we get the feeling that everything is internalised with her. We do see her protective motherly instincts kick in when Saul is taken poorly. Even this event though sees Mrs England silenced and removed. After all, the majority of her life is behind a locked door.

‘There were so many things I wished to ask her – what Mr Sheldrake put in his letter; why her husband locked her in her room. Why she had such disdain for her entire family; why she was, as her mother put it, like lint swept into a corner, brittle and lonely. Why nobody came to the house; why she never left.’

For me, this seems to be the best place to end the review because I don’t want to spoil anything. Nevertheless, by the end of the novel things are much clearer than they were at the start of the novel. The voiceless characters within the novel have the opportunity to speak and Mrs England’s story is eventually told. Ruby ends up seeking a new career opportunity but this time, she gets a lead position: Head Nurse based on her work with the England family. Ruby really is an incredible woman and without her, this novel is nothing.

‘These things are always a part of us, in one way or another, and I’m not suggesting you’ll ever put it behind you. But I’m yet to meet a student or probationer who embodies fortis in arduis more than you. I admire you very much.’

Final Thoughts
I love this book so much. Ruby has to be one of my most favourite characters within a piece of fiction. I also found myself gravitating to Mrs England too. The plot structure of this novel is also one of my favourites – a series of events that make you question every little thing, every little detail. It left me wanting more which is the way any novel should leave you in my opinion. Also, it’s got a stunning cover which fits perfectly with the time period as well. This book is hauntingly beautiful.

Until next time my loves! (Hopefully it will be a bit sooner as well – foot depending!)

Big love xxx

The Maid – Nita Prose

Hello Lovelies!
How are you all? I do hope you’re safe and well! I apologise that it’s been two whole weeks since I posted anything. I was desperately waiting for half term and then right at the very end I got the flu (thankfully not the dreaded C word…) and that wiped me off my feet until the middle of this week really! I don’t really do poorly so it wasn’t the best time. However, I’m feeling much better so I’ve managed to do some reading. I’ve read my book choice for February so that will be my next post after this one but today I wanted to share with you a book I read in one go – I just couldn’t put it down! I’m talking about the incredible The Maid by Nita Prose. I hope you enjoy this one just as much as I did!

What’s it all about?
No spoilers here but this book was amazing! There, I said it…

It centres around a maid, Molly Maid, to be precise. She takes her job at the Regency Grand Hotel very seriously, seeking perfection in every room that she cleans. She doesn’t take her job lightly; she sees it as her responsibility to make everything right again following the guests stay. I love Molly as a protagonist. She’s different, quirky and obsessively thorough. She lives to bring order back from a world of chaos. The other maids make comments about her but she doesn’t care. Her job is to clean to the highest possible standard and that she does day in, day out.

“I’ve been called many a thing in my quarter century, and what I’ve learned is that the common expression about sticks and stones often hurt far less than words.” 

Molly knows only too well that the people she cleans for are sometimes less than honest or less than kind. However, being raised by her Gran has meant that she always sees the best in people, until they prove themselves otherwise. Her Gran is her best friend and the one she goes to when needing advice. Yet one day, the day she discovers a dead body in a room she was cleaning, brings everything into disarray.

“My uniform is my freedom. It is the ultimate invisibility cloak.”

Who is the body? Well, none other than the infamous Mr Charles Black. A regular at the hotel, Mr Black usually stays with his much younger wife, Giselle. He’s an incredibly wealthy man which naturally raises conspiracy theories and suspicion. Unlike her husband, Giselle is warm, kind and takes a liking to Molly. She tips her well and is grateful for her discretion and hard work. The two do end up chatting – offering make up advice and gifts. Giselle also accepts Molly for how she is and also helps her to understand different social cues. What was a normal day at work turns into more of a nightmare for Molly as she ends up as the central suspect in the police enquiry.

“Today at work, I found a guest very dead in his bed. Mr. Black. The Mr. Black. Other than that, my work day was as normal as ever.” 

The first time the police want to speak to her, it was perfectly civil. She is offered the passenger seat in the front of the car and a drink. But things change when she is taken in again as the prime suspect. Molly battles internally with what she should do and what exactly she should say. She sees Giselle as a friend but also Rodney as a love interest. Are each of these characters trustworthy? She’s been fooled by a love interest before. Without her Gran around, it’s a little more complicated now. Yet, her voice rings true in Molly’s head. She knows the true – she isn’t the murderer. So who is?

“I truly am grateful for her guidance. With Gran gone, much of the time I feel like a blind person in a minefield. I’m constantly stumbling upon social improprieties hidden under the surface of things. But with Giselle around, I feel like I’m wearing a breastplate and am flanked by an armed guard. One of the reasons why I love working at the Regency Grand is that there’s a rule book for conduct. I can rely on Mr. Snow’s training to tell me how to act, what to say when, how, and to whom. I find it relieving to have guidance.”

This is where my review has to end because I promised no spoilers. But, I hope this is enough to tempt you to read it. The case isn’t solved until the very last page so you have no choice but to keep reading. Gran’s words echo true here too.

“The longer you live, the more you learn. People are a mystery that can never be solved. Life has a way of sorting itself out. Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” 

Final Thoughts
I love this book so much. I adore Molly. I love the fact that such an unusual character, one who sees things very differently, is given a voice. She is unheard, ignored yet here she is the most key and central character. It’s my favourite genre – the typical ‘whodunit’ and the whole journey surrounding that. I must admit, I didn’t work it out so part of me loves that too! I loved the setting of the hotel and the vast descriptions of the routines of such an unassuming character. She’s completely right of course. How many of us go away and think about the maids? It was also really well written too – a good read that was really difficult to put down. I was desperate to finish it and find out! Nita Prose is definitely someone I will be keeping an eye out for in the future!

I’ll see you before the month is out for the book choice for my reading challenge.

Big Love xxx