Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Book Review: Harmless Like You

Harmless Like You
By Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

On the surface, Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's debut novel is a coming of age story as a girl becomes a woman in the city as she struggles to become an authentic artist but this novel is more than that. This is a book about the connections we make, break and discover in the world. This is a book about isolation, abandonment and desertion. This is a book about creativity and parenthood. This is a book about how behaviours are passed down to each generation.

Told through two narratives, Yuki's story begins in 1960s when her parents head back to Japan, leaving her to battle against Japanese tradition and the seductive nature of American culture as she tries to become an artist and find her 'art'. She finds herself moving from destructive relationship to another, first with her friend from school and then into the arms of her first boyfriend who hits her and belittles her art. While the second strand follows her adult son, Jay in 2016, as he battles to deal with his past and bond with his baby.

Harmless Like You is a great companion book to read with Olivia Laing's The Lonely City. Both books like at isolation people face and the way people search for a belonging. Both Yuki and Jay live in New York and Berlin, full of people, but are unable to find that connection to the people they know or even strangers. This consuming isolation pushes both Yuki and Jay to the fringes of society - they are surrounded by people who do feel the same and who also do not look the same. Both are outsiders, and the only way to deal with this abandonment is to desert their current life. Yuki walks away from the house in the country, her husband and her son. While, under the impression Jay is looking for his mother, he leaves behind his business, his wife and baby.

Yuki is consumed by her art and creativity, and is constantly looking for authenticity. While Jay wants to be an authentic parent and thinks he must be 'perfect' before he can bond with his baby. The conflict between parenthood, loneliness and creativity causes both of these characters to reject society's expectations.

Harmless Like You looks at the way people inherit identity from their parents, from culture, from their surroundings. Both characters flinch away from the harm they are causing on others (Yuki leaves behind her husband is loves her more than she loves him) while Jay escapes from the harm being caused by others on him - his father, his mother, the baby interrupting his life. Both characters have lost their sense of 'home' and are detached from their cultural heritage

This is a book which will linger in your mind long after finishing it. The characters are not likeable but the problems the face are relatable. This is a great book! You can buy Harmless Like You from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Books Read In November

November was full of great books. There was not one dud in the pack!

So lets not waste any more time, and get straight into looking at the books I read in November...

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers - Max Porter
A young father, a Ted Hughes scholar, in a small flat must look after his children and keep the household running after his wife suddenly dies. A crow visits, and will not leave, creating havoc but also helping the family to heal. This amazing book is part novel, part poem full of sadness and humour. Linguistically playful, the words gallop on your tongue. This is a quick read but I turned back to the beginning after finishing and started again, reading it slower. This is a fantastic book.

Self-Help - Lorrie Moore
This short story collection looks at the complicated, funny, awkward life of women trying to find their place(s) in the world. This collection tells the story of woman being 'another woman' in a relationship, a woman with a terminal illness contemplating her death or a guide to being a writer. Moore is a razor sharp writer. I'm not sure why I've left it until this long to read Lorrie Moore.

Harmless Like You - Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
This is the story of a young woman caught and torn between the life a creativity or having a family with a normal job, and a house in the suburbs. This complex novel looks at identity, families, love and loneliness. This is a good companion book to read with The Lonely City. I'll be reviewing this soon.

Harmony - Carolyn Parkhurst
This tense and gripping novel looks at the way parents struggle with a child who is on the autistic spectrum. Moving to a camp to help learn coping strategies ends up isolating and bringing the family to the brink. You can read my review here.

So what did you read in November?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Book Review: Harmony


By Carolyn Parkhurst
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback & ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

My original review of Harmony was that it was a beautifully written book, and I was going to simply leave it as that but the review seemed too short for such a tense and gripping novel.

Similar to A Boy Made of Bricks, Harmony, Carolyn Parkhurst's latest novel, looks at the way parents struggle with a child who is on the autistic spectrum. A Boy Made of Bricks looks at the way both parents finding ways of helping their son while Harmony looks at how the parents look outside the family unit for assistance, and the way this can rip apart the family. A Boy Made of Bricks seems a family come together at the end while Harmony leaves you pondering for days after if the family within the pages of this novel would be fine after the last sentence.

The Hammond family are desperate. So desperate for answers to help their eldest daughter, Tilly, who is on the autistic spectrum, that they pack up their life and travel to Camp Harmony. Not for a holiday but to find answers to cope with Tilly's increasingly erratic behaviour as their coping strategies are no longer working. Alex, Tilly's mother, comes across Scott Bean, a parenting guru full of charm and charisma. He has a solution - a camp for families with 'difficult' children - co-parenting, sharing of problems.

Told through the eyes of Alex, the mother and Tilly, Iris's younger sister, the reader witnesses the family being pushed more and more to its limits even though they are supposedly in the safety of the camp - their relationships with each other becomes fragmented full of secret and lies. This 'program' becomes more of a cult, isolating the families from reality - the one thing the parents actually want is to be help their child to fit into the real world.

The expectations of a utopia are short lived as happiness of the camp starts to fill up with rules and regulations. Scott is more like a cult leader with his erratic behaviour. Relationships become strained not only between the parents but also between the children. Iris finds herself increasingly ignored and marginalised, helping to build resentment towards her sister and the camp.

Harmony carries the suspense and the feeling of dread throughout the novel as well as keeping up with the dark humour. The reader knows that there is something not quite right about this camp, and why can't the parents see that this set up isn't going to solve their problems.

You can buy Harmony from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Book Review: A Boy Made of Blocks

A Boy Made of Blocks
By Keith Stuart
Published by Sphere
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Inspired by the author's experience with his own son, Keith Stuart's debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, tells the moving and funny tale of families, Minecraft and autism. Fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Little Miss Sunshine will love this book.

Here is the book you need to cheer you up during these long, dark winter evenings.

A Boy Made of Blocks tells the difficulties and struggles that a family with an autistic son face at home, with their relationships with each other, the education system and social occasions. Alex, the protagonist and father feels like he is always walking around, fearing the next meltdown of his son, Sam. They must stick to a routine, and not go off plan. Their life is shrinking, and their world becoming smaller. Everyone lives in fear of Sam getting upset. This is a family on the edge of being teared apart. His wife seems to have control of life and knows how to handle Sam, leaving Alex feeling like he is on the sidelines.

The father and son relationship starts to transform with their love of Minecraft, and their shared adventures, building structures from bricks and going on quests. Sam gains enthusiasm, expands his language, becomes more curious and makes new friends. The connection to the virtual world allows him to become more confident in the real world. While Sam builds a world in Minecraft, carefully caring for his constructions; Alex must rebuild his real world - work on his relationship with his wife and family, and finally left go of a past accident with his brother.

This a coming of age story not only for Sam but for Alex too - he can no longer drift around in life, being a spectator to his family's problems. Along with his family, he must overcome the struggle with the education system to get support and understanding for his son, deal with his past, take action and take control of his career and realise that his family need him.

Stuart creates characters, like Alex, who are not always likeable and just need someone to shout at them to buck up their ideas which to me isn't a bad thing. Characters need to be relatable - does anyone know someone who is completely likeable 100% of the time? I know that several times I wanted to shout at him to pull up his socks because his son needed him. Alex buries his head in the sand with his wife, and with Sam, while waiting for other people to clean up his mess. But when he makes the right decisions then I wanted to shake his hand.

This book deals with the uncertainties that we face in life, and tries to establish stability bringing together the family in a sweet ending. Not only is this a feel good book but it also covers serious themes too. Plus, look at the front cover - so bright and cheerful and we all need some colour on these grey days. So pick up a copy and enjoy today! A Boy Made of Blocks is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

October's Reading AKA Make-Over Month

Right, before we begin... 

As you can see I've had a bit of a make-over on the blog. You can now access my pages on the right hand side, and there's a new header. I'm finding the blogger templates are not as easy to manipulate as they used to be (or maybe my internet skills have improved and now I notice these techie things). I need to either learn some coding skills (from basically zero to expert) or I need to start thinking about my own domain name and finding someone to do the leg work for me (I know, I know, I've been talking about this for years).

Anyway, now you've had a look round, lets get back to why we're here... books and writing.

In October my story, I'll Love You Until the End of Time, was published at Dear Damsels. You read read it by clicking through on this post. PLUS this story will be in their annual which will be published soon - so watch out for more information soon.

I DID take the best picture ever of the books I read in October but I went and deleted it because I thought it was backed up in the cloud (look at me talking all tech here) but it didn't so you're going to have to put up with several pictures.

October was a very good month for reading - I enjoyed all of the books!

Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch
I love lending books to people but I am the worse person in the work to lend books to as it takes me a while to read them and return - I worry about breaking spines or accidently dropping the book in the bath. Rivers of London was a borrowed book and I did my best to return the book in the right condition (go me!). Peter Grant, a Detective Constable and trainee wizard takes on supernatural cases in London. Gods, goddesses, ghosts and witches all live among us, and are all tangled up in the feuds and conflicts. This is a great book, full of energy. This book is better than Neverwhere. Looking forward to reading the rest in the series. At some point. Soon. Maybe. But I will definitely read them.

The Lonely City - Olivia Laing
This book looks at the way loneliness is portrayed within Art especially in New York- both mixed media and on the canvas, in films and also the way the internet can at the same time connect people and also isolate people from reality. This is a very informative and enjoyable book. I've leant this to a friend as I was coming in everyday telling my friend about all of the details I was learning - it got to the point where it was easier to lend the book.

The Other Side of the World - Stephanie Bishop
This novel is a deeply moving and beautifully written novel about search of one family to find utopia in a post-WWII world. You can read my review here.

Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy - Helen Fielding
Seeing the third film (which is good and much better than the second one) inspired me to get this off the shelf. I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I say that Mark Darcy is dead and Bridget is a single mother trying to bring up her two children, juggle a screenplay and finding love. This book is a fun, comfort read - great for those evenings when all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket.

A Boy Made of Blocks - Keith Stuart
A father learns to understand his autistic son using the power of Minecraft. This is a great, funny and informative read on the ways family struggle with autism, and how it can bring together as well as push away families. Fans of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time will definitely enjoy this book. Will be reviewing soon.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Book Review: The Other Side of the World

The Other Side of the World
By Stephanie Bishop
Published by Tinder Press
Available in paperback and ebook

The Other Side of the World, Stephanie Bishop's latest novel is a deeply moving and beautifully written novel about search of one family to find utopia in a post-WWII world.

Charlotte's life is deeply rooted in the fens around Cambridge, taking long walks in the winter, enjoying the fog and the way the landscape changes with the weather. She is newly married to Harry, an English Academic, originally from India, with two young children. Once an artist but now she is a mother and it's a role she's struggling to adjust and cope with within the confirms of her small cottage. Harry becomes whipped up with enthusiasm of searching for a new life, and make his wife happy and buys them all one way tickets to Australia, hoping for a new life. Yet for Charlotte the new life may not be as shiny and perfect as her husband has made out.

The Other Side of the World looks at the alienation and displacement of not only physically moving but also a sickness for a past way of life, and searching to get back to happiness. It is not just the homesickness from moving to England to Australia that affects both Charlotte and Henry who are unable to find a rhythm in their new life or settle into a routine. For Henry, the move brings back a sadness for India, and racism that didn't seem as present when he was in England.

On a trip back to India, Henry feels like the country is no longer his home. The people have changed and the way life operates has left him yearning for a time that no longer exists. He feels the same way that many people feel when returning to their childhood home - the familiar feeling but slightly dislodged. Charlotte feels like this about Cambridge yet both of them can not bring themselves to talk to the other - in the evenings they sit in silence - both wanting to escape.

Bishop also looks at the displacement within Charlotte and the way postnatal depression takes hold. Not even moving across the globe helps Charlotte. She becomes more detached and ambivalent towards her children and family life. The heat upsets the fragile family life that Henry is trying to build in a new country. The only hope in Charlotte's heart is the memory of Cambridge, and the passion to find her way back. Her world has shrunk, and finds motherhood claustrophobic with society's expectations weighing down on her.

The Other Side of the World is an insightful novel, and full of beautiful details about the landscape of Cambridge as well as making the reader feel like the heat of Australia is pressing down on you or that you're standing in the middle of the fens. You can find The Other Side of the World in your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via BookBridgr.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Book Review: The Crooked Heart of Mercy

The Crooked Heart of Mercy
By Billie Livingston
Published by HarperCollins
Available in paperback and ebook

Billie Livingston's latest novel, The Crooked Heart of Mercy, is one of those books which will pull you into the world of its characters and not let you go until a few days after finishing the book.

This is the story of people who have had their lives torn apart by tragedy and can't seem to break away from the past without learning to forgive each other and themselves.

Ben who is having a mental breakdown after the sudden death of this child; Maggie, Ben's wife, who is trying to cope with the death and with Ben's detachment from the world as well as looking after her brother, Francis, a priest with a drinking problem and unlikely Youtube star after a mishap with a police officer. Life is tough with Maggie finding it hard to cope with real life, trying to bury herself away from the past yet it keeps catching up with her. All three characters are stuck, being held back by their pasts, unable to move forward with their lives.

Livingston creates realistic, flawed characters against the shiny, perfect background of LA - this juxtaposition shows you that people on the surface are like the city - seemingly perfect public persona but underneath there are cracks, and these characters have very deep cracks in their lives.

Loss and grief eat away at these characters with Ben pushing away Maggie, and Maggie making her brother suffer for their childhood. As this gripping story develops, the vulnerability of their relationships starts to strength as they all come to the realisation that they must seek redemption with each other and forgive themselves for the past. Livingston really digs into the depths of these characters, and this pulled me into the story and made me really care about the fate of these characters, and even after reading the book, I was worrying about their future.

I said it in my mini-review but the UK cover isn't the greatest, and I really think this fantastic story of families, redemption and forgiveness deserves a better cover. You can buy The Crooked Heart of Mercy at your favourite bookshop.

This book was sent to me by the publisher.

Monday, 17 October 2016

September's Reading

I still feel like it's September but apparently it's not so I better talk about the books I read last month before this month disappears. September was full of addictive non-fiction and thrillers, great books with boring front covers and boring books with fantastic front covers.

Amy Schumer - the Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
Comedian and actress, Amy Schumer has written a book of personal essays about being an introvert, sexual experiences, her family, about fame and women's rights. I know that some people poo-poo celebrity books (I know because I've been there) but this one is a good one. For two days, I was coming home from work, bypassing the television, putting the radio on as background noise, quickly eating dinner and then diving straight back into this book. I couldn't stop reading this book. Very candid, relatable and funny.

Noah Hawley - Before the Fall
From the creator and writer of the Emmy Award-winning series Fargo, Noah Hawley's latest novel, Before the Fall is a thriller which will pull you into the story, shake you round, dig its claws into you, and make you end up caring about dubious characters and find yourself fully invested in an intriguing plot. This thriller tells the story of Scott, one of only two survivors of a private plane crash. This novel is full of surprises and red-herrings. You can read my review here.

Billie Livingston - The Crooked Heart of Mercy
This is a fantastic book wrapped in a crappy cover. Billie Livingston's latest novel tells the story of three characters, Ben who is having a mental breakdown after the sudden death of this child; Maggie, Ben's wife, who is trying to cope with the death and with Ben's detachment from the world as well as looking after her brother, Francis, a priest with a drinking problem and unlikely Youtube star after a mishap with a police officer. This is an interesting look at the way families come together as well as fall apart when a personal disaster hits. I'll be reviewing this book very soon.

Ali Smith - There But For The
A dinner guest turns up and doesn't leave. The stuff of middle class nightmares! Ali Smith's novel looks at the way this infects different characters who are connected to the dinner guest. This is definitely not my favourite Ali Smith book (but then Hotel World is brilliant). I love the David Hockney cover though!

So what did you read in September?

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Book Review: Before the Fall

Before the Fall
By Noah Hawley
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

From the creator and writer of the Emmy Award-winning series Fargo, Noah Hawley's latest novel, Before the Fall is a thriller which will pull you into the story, shake you round, dig its claws into you, and make you end up caring about dubious characters and find yourself fully invested in an intriguing plot.

On a foggy evening, a private plane takes off heading to New York from Martha's Vineyard, with two multi-millionaires, David Bateman a media mogul, and Ben Kipling a Wall Street banker, on board with their families, a painter, Scott Burroughs, and the crew. Everyone is happy, content, chatting to each other, drinking, watching sports as the plane takes off. The plane oozes wealth and success.

Yet, sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the sea. Only Scott and JJ, Bateman's four year old son survive, after swimming to shore in the dark. It sounds like I'm giving away spoilers all over the place but I'm not - this all happens in the first third of the novel!

Hawley weaves together the events leading up to boarding the plane and the aftermath, planting red herrings along the way, as the reader slowly finds out why the plane took a dive to the bottom of the sea. Money laundering claims, hints of terrorism, families on the brink of collapse - was this a tragic accident or is there more lingering under the surface? Hawley ramps up the tension with separate chapters about each passenger, making sure that he leaves a cliffhanger to make sure the reader carry on reading way past their bedtime.

Hawley explores the behaviour of the media as it goes into overdrive clutching at every clue and rumour while the investigators take a step back so that they are not pulled into the rumour mill. This conflict between the two builds up the suspense - who will find out the answers first. There is also the question of privacy that both the media and investigators from FBI and Homeland Security seem to have a disregard for around the survivors.

This book also explores America's class system and the prejudices around people's status within society - is a life worth more than others? The media questions why a poor artist survives over a media mogul and Wall Street banker. The media seem set out to prove that Scott, the artist must have something to do with the plane crashing because of his financial status. How far with the media spin a story to get the ratings they want? Before the Fall reminded me of the TV show Newsroom as the debate on how far to push a story comes up each time a new rumour surfaces.

Before the Fall is a great thriller, and I'm sure this will be a big hit once it's published in paperback but go and buy it now and get ahead of the game. You can buy Before the Fall from from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by Bookbridgr.com.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

New Published Story: I'll Love You Until the End of Time

Dear Damsels, an online magazine promoting writing written by women, around a different theme each month have published one of my stories, I'll Love You Until the End of Time.

Do click through and have a read, and also explore the other writing on the site.

You can read it by clicking through here > I'll Love You Until the End of Time.

From the Dear Damsels website

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Book Review: The Good Guy

The Good Guy

By Susan Beale
Published by John Murray
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Susan Beale's debut novel, The Good Guy, is one of those books that you can't put down once you start. The characters are compelling, the time period is interesting, the style of writing lures you into the plot and makes you care about the characters, EVERYTHING is great.

I'm getting carried away. Lets start at the beginning...

This is the story of love, marriage and self deception in suburban New England in the 1960s. Ted is a car-tyre salesman who takes a promotion and gets alot of admiration from his colleagues, success is an addiction and he wants to be the best. His wife, Abigail, is at home with their baby but she craves being at college, learning and earning a wage. Beale creates these two characters, and alternates between their viewpoints, showing their frustrations with the life they are expected to live against the life that they both crave.

After a business dinner, Ted meets Penny, falling in love with her and her carefree attitude to life. He creates himself a more successful past, creating a new life when he is with Penny. The deception and tension builds as Ted falls deeper into their alternative life he is building. His good intentions and self-deception build, pushing all three characters to the extreme.

The Good Guy is a combination of Mad Med and Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road where society is changing and evolving and the characters are caught between the older and newer generation. This push and pull not only forms relationships, bringing people together in this interesting time period but also ripping apart families when people start forming regrets and resentment.

Beale explores the pressure to conform to social convention where Ted and Abigail are caught in the middle of the change. People are shunning the way of life led by their parents, wanting to break away. The prosperity of the post-WWII is changing society with new freedoms but gender roles remain clear and there are strict morals at the core. Society's expectations have yet to catch up with these new freedoms and each generation is trying to find their way. The Good Guy doesn't just tell the coming of age story of Abigail and Ted but also of a new America, on the cusp of change.

Fans of Mad Men, Revolutionary Road and Raymond Carver will love this book. This book is fantastic, either read it now or buy it in paperback as this really is a book you don't want to miss. You can buy a copy of The Good Guy from your favourite bookshop.

The publisher kindly sent me a copy.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

August's Reads

Best talk about the books I read in August before September actually runs out...

Translation of love not pictured
Right August was spent decorating all of the hallway and most of the living room. I do still need to finish off two walls. I could fill up this blog post with excuses of why I haven't finished painting my living room but by the time I had done that I could have actually moved all of the heavy furniture and slapped paint across the wall. But, I have been revised my novel too...getting back into the groovy.

In August I munched my way through three novels and a play. The novels were all great and the reading the play just made me want to see the play more than anything else.

Translation of Love - Lynne Kutsukake
This debut novel is impressive, exploring the cultural clashes in occupied Japan after WWII. You can read my review here.

The Good Guy - Susan Beale
This novel is Richard Yates meets Mad Men so obviously I loved it. Beale looks at the push and pull as society changes after the war where people have more freedoms and how this can cripple lives. Will be writing a review very soon.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - J.K. Rowling
I'm not going to reveal any of the plot so you don't need to look away but all I can say is that it was good to be back in the Harry Potter universe. I now really really want to see the play as the set direction sounds amazing.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
Loved Time Traveler's Wife? Or even Doctor Who with all of its wibbly wobbly timey wimey bits?
Then you'll love this - this has been recommended to me many times and I now know why - wished I had read it sooner. One thing I've noticed about time travel books is that the protagonist always seems to be male. Must look out for a book where the main character is a woman or alternatively, write one!

Right a question for you (one reader)... do you Instagram? If yes, leave your username in the comments and I will follow you.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Book Review: The Translation of Love

The Translation of Love
By Lynne Kutsukake
ISBN: 9781784161149
Published by Black Swan
Available in paperback and ebook

Lynne Kutsukake's debut novel, The Translation of Love is a powerful story of cultural and generational clashes

After World War Two, during the American occupation, the citizens of Japan are encouraged to write to General MacArthur if they have a problem. Day after day letters arrive begging for help, offering their services.

Kutsukake explores the bewilderment after WWII with America bring democracy and a new way of life. There is the push and pull between tradition and the new expected ways of society. There are characters who are finding it hard to adjust to the 'American' way of life while there are others who have been repatriated, forced out of their adopted country and back to Japan who need to adjust to the Japanese style of life. Cultural barriers  created conflict and tension between the characters.

Fumi, 12, wants to find her sister who hasn't returned home in a long time. Her sister became a dancer in a club, dancing for the American soldiers,  bringing back money and food but slowly the time between visits became infrequent until she stopped coming. All Fumi wants is her sister to come home, her father to own his bookshop once more and for them to be a proper family. She writes a letter to General MacArthur begging for his help. Weeks pass, and Fumi decides to take matters into her own hands...

This is a book about loss - a delicate and quiet type of loss, lingering under the surface as the characters pretend to embrace change. There is the loss of friends, family, a dying culture and customs and a loss of belonging. the unknown has infiltrated the lives of both American soldiers and the population of Japan.

The Translation of Love is an impressive read that not only gripped me with the plot but also taught be more about the occupation of Japan after WWII. This book is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Welcome to Procrastination Station

Welcome to procrastination station – offering more ways to avoid writing that novel.

I haven’t really been writing recently
I have been thinking about writing so that counts
I have submitted a short story here and there so that counts
I have been making notes for redrafting chapter 27 so that definitely counts.

I’ve been reading and there’s a stack of books on my desk which are all screaming out for reviews – some of them are great reads so I shouldn’t really be sitting around ignoring them when I could be telling you about them.

I have been procrastinating by painting rooms with the majority of the paint on the walls but splashes on the carpet, on clothes, on the sofa (oops) and in my hair - anything to banish the peachy-magnolia walls. I’ve been taking down shelves that look so 1990s and not the good stuff from the 90s. Filling holes, sanding back, and painting and painting and painting. Falling off a ladder, and dragging the already broken blind down with me.

Baking, eating, and going to the gym, burying myself with work, enjoying long baths until my hands are wrinkled, going to a festival at Fulham Palace, enjoying seeing friends. I’m doing all of this to keep busy and take my mind off things as it has a tendency to wander. A couple of weeks ago would have been my wedding anniversary. Nowadays it all feels like the previous year happened to someone else but the other week was quite sad. I kept painting though. The place feels fresher, and I like the way the light shines differently in the room.

Today, four years ago, I would have been on the maid of the mist, getting soaked by Niagara Falls, and drowning my camera with spray from the falls. So keeping busy is the number one thing at the moment – kick start this blog with some scrummy reviews, catch up with some reading. I have also managed to rewrite chapter 27 from scratch in different notebooks and bits of paper so I need to fit it all together and see if it works as a chapter.

Also binge-listening to my favourite band’s* new song – looking forward to their new album.

*but somehow I own the CD cover for the first album but no longer the CD…

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Book Review: Moonstone

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was

By Sjón
Translated by Victoria Cribb
Publishing by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Sometimes you request a book for review based on the author's reputation (Sjón in big business) or even the front cover (and this book has a very atmospheric cover) but for me, I picked this book because of the location as one of my many plans in life is to head to Iceland - the geoogy of the place makes it feel mythical and mysterious which also adds to this novel.

Set in 1918 in Reykjavik, Sjón's incredible novel, Moonstone tells the story of 16 year old Máni who seeks to find his place in society on an island which is on the brink of change. The Spanish flu rages war through the city, changing the heart of the community. He is rebellious, unable to find common ground with the people around him as he hides in the shadows out of sight, and is at odds with society's expectations.

Máni is an outsider who prefers to enjoy going to the cinema rather than interact with reality, with a passion for surrealist films like Les Vampires. He has lost his parents and lives with a distant aunt who doesn't pay him much interest and spends all of his money at the cinema. His film addicition is paid for by sleeping with men, down dark alleys, out on the barren landscape, trying to escape the watchful eyes of society. While sleeping he dreams about the films, threading these into his own life.

For me, Iceland is the main character with ash bellowing from the volcano, changing the landscape into a dream like place, the dramatic cliffs and an ash cloud plunging the island into darkness, tucked away from the Great War but threatened by the flu. Iceland is going through a major change internally and also trying to find its place after independence. Like Máni, Iceland is like an outsider, watching events as a spectator. Moonstone sees both characters become part of the action, with Máni helping at the hospital was the flu spreads around the city, and Island become a more key player.

This short novel tells of clash of life and death, reality and imagination battle for dominance and where personal isolation comes up against the island’s isolation, both struggling to find a place in the world. Moonstone packs a big punch. 

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Book Review: Martini Henry

Martini Henry
By Sara Crowe
Published by Transworld
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Cross between Adrian Mole and a younger version of Bridget Jones's diary, Martini Henry, Sara Crowe's witty second novel, tells the story of Sue Bowl as she tries to find her place in the world.

Sue is only 18 years old but thinks she has life sussed and knows exactly what will happen in her life - she will inherit her aunt's house, she has a boyfriend and she wants to be an epic writer. Yet reality seems to get in her way...

Having been on a writing course in Crete, she is called back to England as her stepmother is having a baby. Leaving behind her fellow students and an idyllic spot on the beach, she rushes back to be with her family. Back at home, living in a crumbling stately home with her aunt and lodgers, Sue is waiting around for her life to begin.

Yet, she soon discovers that for her life to begin she must take the first step. The glitzy life she imagines is just out of reach so she must embark on an adventure to get to her imagined life. She is determined to get an internship at the local newspaper and while on this quest ends up working as a waitress, complicating her love life and also becomes tangled up with finding out about the history of her aunt's home. The reader follows Sue on her mishaps as she forges a path through life's wobbles as she soon realises that reality is much harder than she first thought. Yet at no point in the novel does she become cynical and jaded - she is still optimist and positive as she deals with whatever life throws at her.

Written in the form of a diary and letters, there are also extracts from a biography of London Taylor who in the Victorian age worked in the home that Sue shares with her aunt. Both characters are trying to find a place in society and both are finding that the things they are doing doesn't necessarily fit with society's expectations.

This is a charming coming of age novel, full of funny antics and also times where you just want to shout at Sue to grow up and to face reality.

You can buy Martini Henry from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy by the publisher.

Monday, 8 August 2016

10 Years Since I Had My Neck Sliced

Happy anniversary to me or at least the scar on my neck! Ten years ago my left Thyroid was whipped out by a surgeon who looked like Dick Van-Dyke along with a lump the size of a tennis ball.

Over the period of six months from around the time of my 21st birthday in February to August, the lump had grown from being several small lumps (I got to see them in an ultrascan - shame I couldn't get a picture and name them all) into one big lump. The surgeon was great (even when he used a massive neddle in my neck to get a sample) as he arranged for the operation to happen during my summer holidays from uni. I was glad to be having the operation as I was finding it harder to breathe and I had lost all of my lovely curves - I could actually fit into clothes from Topshop!

Apparently I was down on the operating table for many hours but I can't remember anything only that I woke up feeling really really cold and it was the hottest day of the year. The operation was performed by the NHS, and the care I had from the nurses and doctors was amazing even though I might have scared them with my low blood pressure ( I like to buck the trend in my family with the whole high blood pressure fan club). The surgeon even came and visited me in my part time job at the bookshop to make sure I wasn't doing any heavy lifting so I didn't undo any of the healing around my neck.

The recovery time was long* - I didn't realise how much you use your neck even when you're not turning around so I spent much of the time in a druggy haze with some sweet painkillers. Not only did my operation rid me of my left side of my thyroid but it also made me a bit queasy around blood (it was seeing the drain for my blood next to me that did it) which means that if you need medical attention then I'll perform it with my eyes closed. Three months after my operation, I served a woman in the bookshop who pointed at me (yes, really) and said that she had had the same operation and she revealed a horrendous scar - that lunchtime I went and bought some scarves and my collection grew very quickly but nowadays the scar is neat and tidy, and it only makes an appearance when either I'm stressed or I've squirted perfume on it by accident.

I still have to take my medication daily (which I'm not that great at doing) - if I don't then I feel like a toy who needs winding up as I've lost all of my energy and if I forget to take it for a few days (because I might be a bit crap at picking up my prescription) then I start to feel like I have a cold and feel like there could be an inner hulk waiting to burst out (has never made an appearance...yet). I can burn the candle at both ends but my candle is smaller than everyone else. The only other thing is my weight - it's harder for me to shift those pounds even though I go to the gym several times a week. Nothing makes me feel more useless than people body shaming with 'but you should be thinner because you go to the gym' but then, in my opinion, those sorts of people body shame others because they have their own body issues. Nobody is perfect and I like my scar - it tells an interesting story.

If anything my operation has made me more determined and full of energy to do the things I want in life. Having a long recovery period meant I could think about what I wanted to do and one of those was to take my writing serious (even though I was already doing my uni course on writing) and to continue to improve even though it was going to be a long slog. Plus I knew that I wanted to do a Masters degree too plus there were a few other things I wanted to achieve (which I did then promptly lose, so erm, lets move on with the story). So fast forward 10 years and I have my Masters degree and I'm currently redrafting my second novel. Recently I've been dragging my feet but remembering today and how I felt back then has made me more determined to get this thing finished so I can have another novel sitting on my hard drive.

*and when I say long I mean enough time for me to watch endless episodes of Stargate while under the influence of strong painkillers.