Book Review: And Then There’s Margaret by Carolyn Clarke


Marriage and midlife can be difficult. But when you add a controlling, manipulative and self-absorbed mother-in-law into the mix, things can get worse-much worse. Toxic, even.

When Allison Montgomery’s beloved father-in-law and long-time confidant passes away, her mother-in-law, Margaret, ‘temporarily’ moves in. From rearranging the furniture and taking over the kitchen, to undermining and embarrassing Allie at every turn, including funding her daughter’s escape, throwing a hissy fit at the mall, and publicly equating Allie’s glass of Chardonnay to full blown alcoholism, Margaret turns Allie’s life upside down causing her to bounce between a sincere desire to support her grieving mother-in-law and an intense urge to simply push her out of the nearest window.

Feeling annoyed, trapped and even a little childish, Allie struggles to avoid a complete meltdown with help from her fearless and audacious best friend, a plan for reinventing herself and enjoying a second act, and, yes, a few glasses of Chardonnay. Along the way, Allie discovers the reasons behind Margaret’s attitude toward her all these years. Does it help? Maybe…

It’s publication day for And Then There’s Margaret, the debut novel by Carolyn Clarke. Happy Publication Day, Carolyn. To celebrate, I am delighted to be sharing my review os the book with you. My thanks to Hannah Hargrave for inviting me to review, and to the author and publisher for providing me with a copy for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

It’s always really great to see a protagonist in a novel at a similar stage of life to you and Allie in And Then There Was Margaret is such a character. Mid-forties with two grown up children, a middle-aged husband and ageing parents, she is a character that a lot of us can hard relate to. Although, before I go any further, I have to say that my mother-in-law, could not be LESS like Margaret. I wouldn’t want the lovely Phyllis to think I thought she was anything like the impossible Margaret!

We meet the family at a crisis point. Allie’s beloved father-in-law, George, has just died and, whilst grieving the death of someone to whom she was very close, Allie simultaneously has to deal with the constant, demanding, interfering presence of her irascible mother-in-law, Margaret, in her life. She tries to make allowances for the fact Margaret is also grieving but the two have never got along so she finds it increasingly difficult and Margaret sticks her nose and opinions into every part of Allie’s life.

There are so many things going on in this book that will be common experiences for women of a certain age reading it. Midlife crisis, difficult relationships with your spouse’s family, marital tension, perimenopause, worrying about your children, dissatisfaction with a job you have been doing for years, concerns about getting older, ill-health, dating after divorce. It is a veritable smorgasbord of the conflicts that people encounter in later life, all dealt with with a humour that will make you both laugh and wince at the same time because their portrayal is so accurate. It is possible to feel extremely sorry for Allie whilst also recognising that some of her behaviour is entirely unreasonable, but also understandable when viewed through the hormonal lens of middle-aged womanhood. It had me examining some of my attitudes from a third-party perspective with no entirely comfortable results.

After an initially slow start, I was then drawn completely in by the author’s light and approachable writing style and raced through the rest of the book apace. Although it is set in Canada, the experiences of late-forties womanhood are universal. I really wanted Allie to work things out with all the people in her life, whilst realising this might not happen because life is just not that neat and, if there is one thing I can say about this book, is that it has the truth of life nailed. (The part about Allie’s dreams of writing a bestseller that pays for her retirement was uncomfortably familiar!)

A great read for anyone woman of a certain age who longs to see more characters like her between the pages of a book but, be warned, it’s not entirely comfortable viewing. To quote Robbie Burns,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion

And Then There’s Margaret is out today in paperback and ebook and is free with Kindle Unlimited membership. You can buy it here.

About the Author


Carolyn Clarke is the founder and curator of HenLit Central, a blog focused on ‘life and lit’ for women over 40. And Then There’s Margaret is her first novel. She has been an ESL teacher for over sixteen years and has co-authored several articles and resources with Cambridge University Press, MacMillan Education and her award-winning blog ESL Made Easy. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her partner, Tony, her two daughters and a bulldog, Sophie.

Connect with Carolyn:


Facebook: Carolyn Clarke

Twitter: @CarolynRClarke

Instagram: @carolynclarkeauthor


Introducing Little Book Retreats


I should have been attending the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual conference in Telford this weekend. Unfortunately, I’m dealing with the tail-end of my first bout of Covid, so I’ve had to give it a miss. This was very disappointing for lots of reasons – missing out on some great talks and seminars, not being able to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in person for a few years, and people I was hoping to meet in person for the first time – but also because I was planning on formally launching my new business at the conference this weekend. 

There isn’t anything I can do about having to miss the conference, covid is just something we have to deal with these days, but I can still launch my business so, I’d like to introduce you to Little Book Retreats.


Throughout the year I am going to be running writing retreats from my home in a small village in the heart of Yorkshire. A mix of tutored and write-only retreats will take place over weekends throughout the year for groups of up to seven people. Fully-catered, so you don’t have to do anything but turn up and write, away from the pressures and demands of everyday life. Guests will have their own private room with writing space, and access to the numerous communal spaces throughout the house and gardens. People can spend as much or as little time alone or with others as they wish – so you can write in solitude or be inspired and stimulated by the company of likeminded people.


I have run two retreats so far, one in January and one May, both of which were very well received. Here are some of the comments I received from guests on the first two retreats:

Julie is such a warm and welcoming host. Her house is absolutely beautiful and the countryside location was perfect to help me clear my mind and give my writing (and myself!) some quality time. I came away feeling rejuvenated and excited to continue work on my latest manuscript.

Emma Jackson

Julie’s retreat venue is spacious and welcoming with a library in which to read, relax or chat. There are plenty of areas in which to write should you prefer privacy, plus the social kitchen table for all things book-chat. Delicious meals, refreshments, and nothing was too much trouble for Julie. I’m definitely going back!

Kate Baker

Staying at Little Book Retreats is like a home away from home with oodles of bookish chat and creative conversation. Set in the countryside, there are plenty of places to sit and immerse yourself in the quiet gardens. With excellent food and a fabulous host, I’ll definitely book again. Well catered for a a coeliac which made the weekend all the more special.

Sandra Forder

I am looking forward to welcoming some interesting tutors over the next twelve months, and I am even toying with the idea of running some read-only/book club weekends if there was any interest in that, so get in touch if that is something you would consider attending. I’m really excited about developing the retreats to meet the needs of anyone who would like to come and take advantage of the peaceful and inspiring surroundings I am lucky enough to live in. As I have been running this book blog over the past five-plus years, the greatest pleasure I’ve had from it is meeting, chatting to and learning from other book lovers and authors, and the chance to extend the opportunities to do that by opening up my home to other book-obsessed folk is very exciting.

You can find more information on the venue and the retreats that are currently on offer on the website, or email me for details at There is also the opportunity to sign up for my mailing list on the website to get details of events sent direct to your inbox. Also follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see what I’m up to.

I hope I will get to meet some of you at one of my retreats in the future. I look forward to sharing some book love with you in person!


Book Review: Small Angels by Lauren Owen


When Chloe turns the key to Small Angels, the church nestled at the edge of Mockbeggar Woods where she is to be married, she is braced for cobwebs and dust.What she doesn’t expect are the villagers’ concerned faces, her fiancé’s remoteness, or the nagging voice in her head that whispers to her of fears she didn’t even know she had.

Something in the woods is beginning to stir, to creep closer to the sleeping houses. Something that should have been banished long ago.

Whatever it is, it’s getting stronger, and pretending it’s not there won’t keep the wedding, or the village – or Chloe ­- safe.

Today, I am delighted to be sharing my review of Small Angels by Lauren Owen. Huge thanks to the author, Tinder Press and Claire Maxwell for inviting me to preview the book and providing me with a proof for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

There is nothing I love reading more than a good Gothic novel and, whilst the midst of a burning summer perhaps isn’t the ideal time to immerse yourself in the dark and gloomy, I absolutely adored Small Angels.

Right from the beginning of the book, the author draws you in to a small, insular and oppressive world, in a village that seems forgotten by the rest of humanity at the edge of the ominous Mockbeggar Woods. The scene setting here is without compare, you will be whisked away to every place you’ve ever seen, watched or read about that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It’s the Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf, Manderlay from Rebecca and the Seward Sanatorium all rolled into a feeling. This place isn’t normal, that’s clear from the beginning and, once you’ve been drawn in, it’s impossible to extricate yourself from its grip until the very end.

The premise of the book is entirely unique, but in the best traditions of ghost story telling. I’ve only just realised the connection but, as soon as I started reading this book, I was subconsciously compelled to rewatch Sleepy Hollow because the book gave me a similar vibe to Washington Irving, but with an individual and modern spin. Every character in this book was vividly alive and real, even whilst the tale is fantastical and fey – I was completely invested whilst being transported to a fairytale world. Fairytale in the sense of the original stories by the Brothers Grimm, far from a sanitised, Disney version. This book is not for the timid or terrified.

The best thing about the book is the setting is so alive. The author’s description of the woods, the way she gives life and a voice and intent to the trees and foliage is what brings the book to life and makes it so menacing. Her prose is deliciously purple, so plump and tasty you can almost suck it from the page. This book is one to be devoured, a rich feast of a tale that will leave you full and satiated and wondering when you will next savour something so luscious and satisfying.

I could not put this book down once I had started reading it, and I know it is one I will go back to for a second reading, which doesn’t happen to much these days. My only regret is that I didn’t read it during the darkening days of autumn, when the nights are drawing in and darkness starts to creep around the edge of our thoughts, when things can be hiding in the shadows on the cusp of our dreams. This is the perfect time to gain the most from the reading of Small Angels, when the nights can hide all manner of strangeness from view and you wonder what that whisper was over your shoulder. Buy a copy now, ready to haunt you a little in the evenings as the year begins to wane. You won’t regret it.

Small Angels is out in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats on 2 August and you can pre-order a copy here.

About the Author


Lauren Owen is the author of The Quick and Small Angels. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize, and wrote a PhD thesis entitled ‘Dracula’s Inky Shadows’ on the Gothic tradition in fiction.

Lauren grew up in Yorkshire and currently lives in Oxford.

Connect with Lauren:


Twitter: @pioneers_o

Instagram: @pioneerso


Summer’s One #MustReadBook 2022 #Collaboration #SummerReading [Book Reviews] — Reading Ladies

I was so delighted to be asked to take part in Carol’s annual summer reading collaboration again. Check out her post for lots of fantastic summer reading recommendations from some of my favourite book bloggers. You’ll thank me, even if you wallet may not!

A worldwide summer reading multi-blogger extravaganza…..Find your next great summer read here! Trusted bloggers recommend one great summer read.

Summer’s One #MustReadBook 2022 #Collaboration #SummerReading [Book Reviews] — Reading Ladies

Blog Tour: Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

Hostage Cover Image

Save hundreds of lives. Or save your child?

You’re on board the first non-stop flight from London to Sydney. It’s a landmark journey, and the world is watching.

Shortly after take-off, you receive a chilling anonymous note.

There are people on this plane intent on bringing it down – and you’re the key to their plan.

You’d never help them, even if your life depended on it.

But they have your daughter . . . So now you have to choose.


It’s my turn on the blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Hostage by Clare Mackintosh. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Wow, what a book this is! It’s been sitting on my TBR since it came out in hardback and I have no idea why I waited so long to read it. Having adored all of Clare’s previous books, I know she is the mistress of the edge-of-your-seat thriller and this is no exception, I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole way through the book. It may be her best novel yet.

Told from the viewpoints of flight attendant, Mina, her husband, Adam, daughter, Sophia, and the anonymous mastermind behind the hijacking of Mina’s flight, we are drawn into the world of international terrorism and a person being forced to make a choice between saving the life of someone they love or saving the lives of hundreds of strangers. What on earth would you do in that situation, and how can anyone been trained to deal with being put in that position?

The author does a brilliant job here of building the characters and their back stories so that we genuinely feel a connection to them by the time they are put in the impossible situation which forms the basis of the book. I think she did a particularly fantastic job with Adam. Through Mina’s eyes we are given one impression of him which he manages to change throughout the course of the book until I felt completely differently about him by the end. To see a character go through such a complete metamorphosis during the course of a novel and have it feel so natural is a real achievement.

I don’t know where Clare pulled this plot from, but it is a doozie to read. I found it totally compelling throughout. It had some real moral dilemmas, some completely shocking turns of events, which came just when you were getting a bit complacent, and an ending that I really loved. Sophia is one of my favourite characters from any of the books I have read this year. This is a book that you can devour in a single sitting and get so lost in it the time will pass by in a blur and you won’t even realise how long you have been absent from the real world.

Highly recommended if you want something heart-thumping and engrossing to read by the side of the pool this summer. Maybe don’t read it on the plane though….

Hostage is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews:

Hostage BT Poster

About the Author

Claire Author Pic

Clare Mackintosh is the multi-award-winning author of five Sunday Times bestselling novels, including I Let You Go, which was the fastest-selling debut thriller in the year it was released. Translated into forty languages, her books have sold more than two million copies worldwide, have been New York Times and international bestsellers and have spent a combined total of 64 weeks in the Sunday Times bestseller chart.

Clare spent twelve years in the police force, including time on CID, and as a public order commander. She left the police in 2011 to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant and is the founder of the Chipping Norton Literary Festival. She now writes full time and lives in Wales with her husband and their three children.

Connect with Claire:


Facebook: Clare Mackintosh

Twitter: @claremackint0sh

Instagram: @claremackwrites


Blog Tour: Open Your Eyes by Heather J Fitt

HIGH RES Open Your Eyes_final copy

A Scottish journalist enters a dark online world in this unsettling novel of men, women, resentment, and rage…

Edinburgh reporter Frankie has finally been assigned a high-profile crime story about a series of sexual assaults, and relishes her big break. Her article focuses on the issue of women’s safety, which doesn’t seem to have improved much since the era of the Yorkshire Ripper.

When she faces a torrent of abuse online, it leads her to discover the phenomenon of incels— and puts her in the sights of those trying to stop her covering the story. But she refuses to back down. What she doesn’t realise is that in this murky online world, one man is being goaded into a spectacular and shocking attack with Frankie as his main target…

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Open Your Eyes by Heather Fitt. My thanks to the author for inviting me to review her book and for providing me with a digital copy of the book for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

The world is becoming an ever more frightening place for women at the moment. Rights we thought had been secured decades ago are being rolled back before our eyes. There are daily stories in the news of women being attacked as they walk the streets. Even in the corridors of our Government, men are being accused regularly of inappropriate sexual behaviour. People try and tell us that we have equality in the modern world but a glance around will tell you it is simply not true. This is the stage upon which Heather Fitt has released this book, a book which is extremely relevant in this time, which is why I volunteered to review it.

Heather is exploring the world of extreme misogyny and the incel in this novel. A murky, online world of men who hide in the shadows spouting hate against women and making threats of terrible violence against them. They are the people who pop up on Twitter making threats against politicians and activists who dare to espouse any feminist ideas or campaign for changes to laws which might better protect us, and sometimes their threats actually become actions with terrible consequences. It is a frightening phenomenon that has developed as social media has taken hold of the world and forms the basis for the story that unfolds on these pages.

I thought the plot Heather has constructed here to explore this issue was really well constructed and compelling. A journalist writes an innocuous piece for Valentine’s Day which leads her down an unexpected path of being exposed to and exploring this community of extreme misogyny and becoming a target of it. The book is really well paced, the characters engaging and the subject matter fresh and startling. I read this cover to cover in a single sitting in around three hours because I was so engrossed in the story. There isn’t a much greater endorsement than that.

One small issue I had with the book was the way it ended and what happened to one particular character. I was not convinced that this character would have gone down the route they did so quickly, it just didn’t seem to fit with who they had been, or seemed to have been becoming, throughout the rest of the story and it just sat awkwardly at the end. That aside, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the rest of the book or my eagerness to recommend it as something different and interesting to read. Pick up a copy if you are looking for a book exploring something unusual and relevant.

Open Your Eyes is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and also as part of the Kindle Unlimited programme. You can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour:

OYE Blog Tour ImageAbout the Author


Heather was born in Scotland and after moving around Europe with her parents and sister, settled in Hampshire where she met her husband, Stuart.

After leaving the rat-race in 2018, Heather re-trained as an editor and proof-reader and entered the world of publishing. These days she works as a part-time freelancer and a part-time Commissioning Advisor for Bloodhound.

Heather was inspired to start writing her novel by the authors who have become her closest friends. Now the ideas are flowing she has plans to write several more over the coming years.

When she isn’t reading, Heather enjoys spending her time watching sport – especially her beloved rugby – and exploring the British countryside with Stuart.

Heather’s debut novel will be published by Bloodhound in Summer 2021.

Connect with Heather:

Twitter: @HeatherJFitt