Book Review: Older and Wider by Jenny Eclair

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‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE

Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).

As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

Today is publication day for Older and Wider, the hilarious new non-fiction book by Jenny Eclair, designed to help you get through the menopause with a smile on your face. Happy Publication Day, Jenny! Huge thanks to Hannah Robinson at Quercus Books for sending me a proof copy of the book. The review below represents my  honest and impartial thoughts about it. (Overly so, please, any man who knows me, don’t read any further, I beg of you. Mum, you too. And my kids. Seriously, you really don’t want to read any further right now. Come back when you hit 40, okay?)

This book arrived on my doorstep yesterday and, I was so looking forward to reading it that I dived straight in and had finished it by this morning. I probably don’t need to say any more than that to indicate that I loved it but, since two short paragraphs don’t make for a scintillating review, I’ll expand a bit.

I am a woman of a certain age (48), and I am the exact market that this book is aimed at, the woman who is just starting out on the menopause journey, feeling confused and alone and scared of what to expect. My mother has always been fairly tight-lipped on intimate personal matters and, when I approached her a couple years ago, seemed to think I was ‘too young’ to be embarking on the menopause and recalls hers lasted only a couple of years in her early 50’s. From my own recollection of events in my mid-teens, I don’t think this is correct and I knew I was going to have to look elsewhere for truthful advice about it (to be fair, my mum did cut out a bit of advice from the Daily Mail when I told her I was struggling with peri-menopausal symptoms and it proved very useful, but more on that later). Well, in this book, Jenny sets herself up as the menopause guru we all wish we had, and tells it like it is, no holds barred.

I love Jenny Eclair, always have, always will. You know when fans of those women (insert name of your least favourite, reactionary social commentator/Twitter agitator here) who tweet ghastly, inflammatory opinions designed as click bait tell you, ‘She is only saying what we are all thinking?’ I am NEVER thinking the things that they are saying but, when Jenny Eclair tweets stuff, it is nearly always exactly what I am thinking. In short, she is someone I trust and, as such, is ideally placed as common sense advice giver on matters menopausal. This book is her A-Z of personal experiences of the menopause and sensible advice on what to expect and how to deal with it, and I thought it was fabulous.

It was January 2017, at the age of not-quite-45, when I realised that I was probably entering my peri-menopausal phase. I’d had a couple of mild symptoms – itchy calves, slight vagueness of memory, the odd night sweat (horrible, let me tell you, to wake up suddenly in the night soaking wet from head to foot, as if someone has thrown a bucket of water over you in your sleep) but I hadn’t thought much of it. It was only when I started to feel like an alien in my own body, as if someone had come and removed my own personality and replaced it with that of a total stranger, that I really became worried. The final straw came one weekend when my partner and I were enjoying a lovely, family walk on a beautiful Welsh beach with our five girls and perfectly photogenic dog, looking like something (hopefully) from a Boden catalogue, I found myself uncontrollably sobbing for absolutely no reason and, when the Irishman asked me what was wrong wailing, “I don’t knooooooooow!” At that point, I thought I had better go and see a doctor.

I went the next week, got a twelve- year -old-ish male locum who couldn’t care less, told me I was too young to be menopausal and, basically, to pull myself together, and that was that for medical help at that point. I expect this experience is not unusual. I decided he was an idiot and I was quite clearly going to have to sort myself out. I took to the internet, read a load of websites that convinced me I was not going mad, was obviously peri-menopausal and that made me feel better. At this point my mother gave me a cutting from the newspaper about a supplement that might help, I gave it a try, it did indeed seem to alleviate some of the worst symptoms (mood swings, crippling period pains and aching muscles) and I plodded on for two-and-a-half years. When the horrific anxiety returned with a vengeance last autumn, I went back to the doctor, got a fabulous, understanding lady of a similar age to myself who finally did a blood test, confirmed my suspicions, offered me a prescription for Vitamin D and lots of options of how to deal with it (I plumped for CBT, which I had tried with great success to deal with anxiety in my early twenties, leaving HRT and anti-depressants as fall back options) and left me feeling vindicated and much happier and less alone. This is what we all need, and what this book offers. A tome of comforting tales of actual experience, no-nonsense advice and reassurance that you are not alone, or going mad.

Plus it is very, very funny. From the dedication page, I was laughing, and I laughed all the way to the end, even at bits which are not at all funny when you are going through them yourself, alone and confused and probably a bit scared that there might be something more seriously wrong with you than a few haywire hormones.

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And this is what this book offers. A normalisation of the whole process. Reassurance that, whilst unpleasant, this is entirely natural, transitory, survivable and a universal female experience. That, whilst we don’t all suffer exactly the same way, there is someone, somewhere out there who is going through exactly the same thing and, thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media, you can probably find her. In fact, she’s probably me, or Jenny Eclair, or the other women who take part in her podcast, or in a Twitter menopause group, or on daytime TV, or your mum, or one of your friends. Go out there, look, talk to each other! None of us has to suffer alone and in silence any more, and sod you, pubescent boy doctor without a clue or any sympathy! But, if you feel a bit shy, or embarrassed, or don’t know any women of the relevant age, this book is a really good place to start.

Not everything you experience will be in here, and you won’t experience everything she does. I haven’t had ‘temper static’ or ‘pop-sock leg’ or ‘desiccation.’ Maybe some of this will come, as I know I am only in the toddlerdom of my menopause life span. I have had the aforementioned itchy calves. I have experienced one armpit (the right) being much, much sweatier than the other at certain times of the month (and no, this is not peculiar to me, my cousin has had the same thing!). I’ve discovered the excess chin hairs she talks about, but also the appearance of a nose hair that must have been growing since birth to have got so long and rope-like before it emerged sudden and unannounced when I was far from a pair of tweezers. Did you know it is not only your head hair that goes grey? No, eyebrow hairs, and those further south too! And why are grey hairs so much thicker and more tenacious? Far from desiccation, my skin and hair have reverted back to a teenage greasiness that I thought I had put far behind me. I’ve much more inclined to pins and needles in my hands and feet than before. I’ve developed an unfortunate sensitivity to cheese (a fact which will horrify Jenny. See, Jenny, you were lucky with the red berries!). I’m sure there are other odd symptoms that other people experience as well. The point is, being abnormal is normal, but you should not be afraid to talk about these things, ask medical professionals for help, and don’t be fobbed off with impatient, embryo, male GPs who never imagined that talking to weeping, middle-aged women about problems with their down-belows was how they would spend their days after cutting up cadavers for seven long years at uni.

Some of the stuff you will recognise, it is scary but normal. When she talks about how your periods change, I could completely relate. When I was a teenager, I had such heavy periods and bad cramps that I would lie sobbing on my bed clutching a hot water bottle to my stomach. I seemed to grow out of them, but they returned a couple of years ago. I now no longer cry and lay in bed, I’ve got much more stoic as I’ve aged, but it’s not fun. Plus they are erratic. Plus, the consistency is definitely different. In fact, it has made me wonder what it must be like in there for the babies of women who have children very late in life. Something akin to hatching a tadpole in a stagnant, algae-choked pond rather that a crystal-clear pool fed by a babbling spring. Alas. My daughters will read this and tell me I am sharing TMI, but this is the point of this book. We need to talk about this stuff honestly, no more hiding away in shame, it only makes us feel lonely and sad and worried.

And it isn’t all doom and gloom. The book highlights all the positives about getting older, and I see these too. More sense of self, and knowing who we are (once you get past the aliens-taking-over-your-brain phase), more time, less angst about where life is taking you. She gives you lots of ideas of things to do to help and take control, from diet and exercise and remedies, to taking up hobbies. I already have mine lined up. I have stashed away enough books to last me a decade (Waterstones is my Lakeland). I’ve started writing my novel. I’m going to learn to read the tarot (playing into the old lady = witch stereotype, I know, I don’t care), practise origami (the Japanese have the best hobbies, although my daughters were a bit disgusted when, after learning about Hikaru Dorodango from Jenny’s book, I wondered aloud what delights we could produce from the waste products of our ponies) and finish the tapestry of The Haywain that I know is lurking half-done on a frame in the loft (I was middle-aged as a teenager, you see). And I don’t think it is a coincidence that I began this very blog at the exact time the peri-menopause symptoms kicked in. Listen to your bodies, ladies, they know what they need.

We need more books like this, that talk openly about the things that affect women, and have been taboo far too long. I don’t write reviews this long often, and only for books that really spark something in me. Last year it was Period by Emma Barnett, and Jenny’s book has affected me even more, because it is so relevant to the current phase of my life. I wish I had had access to it four years ago, before I started feel panicky and lost and a bit scared. When I’d heard a bit about some of the physical symptoms but nothing about the uncontrollable psychological side effects that were terrifying me on that Welsh beach. We need more people we admire and trust to talk about this, loudly and publicly, to take away the stigma. I will be recommending this to all my friends, if I  have any left after this over-share. I’ll be keeping this close as part of my menopause survival kit, alongside my vitamins and big pants, as I navigate the next few years of my, definitely-not-over-yet, life.

Older and Wider is out today in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here and from all good independent booksellers.

About the Author

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Jenny Eclair is the Sunday Times top ten bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels Camberwell Beauty, Having a Lovely Time and Life, Death and Vanilla Slices, as well as the Richard and Judy bestseller, Moving, the short story collection, Listening In and her latest novel Inheritance. One of the UK’s most popular writer/performers, she was the first woman to win the prestigious Perrier Award and has many TV and radio credits to her name and co-hosts the Older and Wider podcast with Grumpy Old Women producer Judith Holder. She lives in south-east London.

Connect with Jenny:

Website: http://www.jennyeclair.com

Facebook: Jenny Eclair

Twitter: @jennyeclair

Instagram: @jennyeclair1960

Tempted by…The Book Review Cafe: The Home by Sarah Stovell

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One more little secret … one more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also an emotive drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

Normally on Tempted by…, I highlight books I have bought as a direct result of seeing a post by another blogger on their blog, but today’s book came to me via a more circuitous route. Some of you may be aware of a weekly feature I run on my blog called Friday Night Drinks, where I chat with authors, bloggers and other bookish folks, trying to winkle out their deepest, darkest secrets. I always ask for a book recommendation during these sessions and, when Lorraine from The Book Review Cafe appeared on Friday Night Drinks on 9 February, the book she recommended as a ‘must read’ was The Home by Sarah Stovell.

Of course, having read Lorraine’s gushing praise of the book, I immediately headed over to her blog to read the full review (which you can see here.) Once I had read Lorraine’s impressions of the book in more detail, I knew I just had to get a copy. It sounds like everything you could possible hope for in a book and then some. Any book which manages to stand out so completely to someone who reads as voraciously as Lorraine, and so widely, must be something special and something that I need to read for myself. Lorraine awarded it her first ‘Book Hangover Award’ of 2020, and that is sufficient endorsement from me.

I absolutely love Lorraine and her blog. Her site is beautiful, , easy to navigate and absolutely packed full of delights for the book addict. Her reviews are always thoughtful, detailed and enticing and I usually agree absolutely with what she has said about books we have both read. As well as all this, she is a friendly, kind and extremely generous blogger and I feel very fortunate to have her as a member of my bookish circle. Make sure you pay her fabulous blog a visit soon. In fact, no time like the present, here is the link: https://thebookreviewcafe.com

If you would like to grab a copy of The Home for yourself, it is available in all formats here.

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year 2020: International Shortlist Revealed For Crime Writing’s Premiere Prize

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The shortlist for the 16th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has been announced, taking the reader on an international crime spree from New York to Calcutta, London to Lagos via Glasgow and the Australian outback.

Chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy, the titles in contention for this most prestigious of prize’s – which feature five Theakston award alumni and one debut novelist – showcase exceptional variety and originality, including spy espionage, historical crime, gallows humour, outback noir and serial killing siblings.

The news coincides with updated lockdown reading research from Nielsen Book showing that the genre is continuing to soar in popularity, a trend led by younger readers and men. Alongside an increase in the overall number of crime and thriller novels in the bestseller charts, even more people are turning to the genre in lockdown, particularly younger readers (18-44). Of the three quarters saying that their fiction interests have changed, 26% say that crime and thriller has become their genre of choice.

Marking a meteoric rise since being selected by Val McDermid as a spotlight author in the 2019 Festival’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel, Oyinkan Braithwaite remains in pursuit of the coveted trophy with the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer. Based in Nigeria, Braithwaite is the only debut author remaining, and one of the youngest ever to be shortlisted. Inspired by the black widow spider, Braithwaite turns the crime genre on its head with a darkly comic exploration of sibling rivalry, exploring society’s feelings towards beauty and perfection.

The remaining five authors on the shortlist are all previous contenders hoping 2020 is their year to claim the trophy. The legendary Mick Herron, likened to John Le Carré, has picked up a fifth nomination with Joe Country, the latest in his espionage masterclass Slough House. A former legal editor, Herron’s commute from Oxford to London led to the creation of this much-lauded series, which is currently being adapted for television with Gary Oldman taking on the iconic role of Jackson Lamb.

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for the title with Smoke & Ashes, described by The Times as one of the best crime novels since 1945. Accountant turned bestseller, Mukherjee was shortlisted in 2018 for the first book in the Wyndham & Banerjee series set in Raj-era India, The Rising Man. Smoke & Ashes – the third  instalment – is set in 1921 in Calcutta, where Mukherjee’s parents grew up and where he spent six weeks each year during his childhood.

Authors making it through to the shortlist for the first time include Glasgow’s Helen Fitzgerald for Worst Case Scenario, which marks her first appearance on the Theakston list since The Cry, adapted into a major BBC drama starting Jenna Colman, was longlisted in 2013. Packed with gallows humour, Worst Case Scenario takes inspiration from Fitzgerald’s time as a criminal justice social worker in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, alongside her experiences with depression and going through the menopause.

Despite receiving international recognition, before Belfast’s Adrian McKinty started writing The Chain – for which he picks up his second Theakston nod – he had been evicted from his home and was working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Persuaded to give writing one last go, McKinty started on what would become the terrifying thriller that sees parents forced to kidnap children to save their own, and for which Paramount Pictures has acquired the screen rights in a seven-figure film deal.

The final title on the shortlist is The Lost Man by former journalist Jane Harper, who was previously longlisted for her debut The Dry in 2018, for which the film adaption starring Eric Bana is due to be released this year. Inspired by the beautifully brutal Australian environment, The Lost Man explores how people live – and die – in the unforgiving outback and is a moving – particularly topical – study in the psychological and physical impact of isolation.

The full shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 is:

 

–                 My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)

–                 Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

–                 The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Little, Brown Book Group, Little, Brown)

–                 Joe Country by Mick Herron (John Murray Press)

–                 The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Orion Publishing Group, Orion Fiction)

–                 Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “Seeing the huge variety and originality within this shortlist, it comes as no surprise to hear that crime fiction is dominating our lockdown reading habits. Offering both escapism and resolution, these exceptional titles transport readers around the world and I can’t wait to see where we settle on 23 July when one of these extraordinary authors takes home the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier cask.”

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals and supported by T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback from 1 May 2018 to 30 April 2019 by UK and Irish authors.

The shortlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith, alongside a public vote.

The shortlist will be promoted in a dedicated online campaign from WHSmith, digital promotional materials will be made available for independent bookstores, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s online community – You’re Booked – features exclusive interviews and interactive content. This forms part of the Harrogate International Festival virtual season of events, HIF at Home, which presents a raft of live music, specially commissioned performances, literary events and interviews to bring a free festival experience to your own digital doorstep.

The public vote for the winner is now open on www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com, with the champion set to be revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 23 July marking what would have been the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The legendary gathering – which formed part of Harrogate International Festival Summer Season – was cancelled, with much sadness, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The winner will receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

 

Blog Tour: Surviving Me by Jo Johnson #GuestPost

Surviving Me

I’m happy to be taking my turn today on the blog tour today for Surviving Me by Jo Johnson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for her guest post. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the post for a great giveaway.

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Deceit has a certain allure when your life doesn’t match up to the ideal of what it means to be a modern man.

Tom’s lost his job and now he’s been labelled ‘spermless’. He doesn’t exactly feel like a modern man, although his double life helps. Yet when his secret identity threatens to unravel, he starts to lose the plot and comes perilously close to the edge.

All the while Adam has his own duplicity, albeit for very different reasons, reasons which will blow the family’s future out of the water.

If they can’t be honest with themselves, and everyone else, then things are going to get a whole lot more complicated.

This book tackles hard issues such as male depression, dysfunctional families and degenerative diseases in an honest, life-affirming and often humorous way. It focuses particularly on the challenges of being male in today’s world and explores how our silence on these big issues can help push men to the brink.

An unusual path to publishing a novel by Jo Johnson

Were you educated in this country?’ This was one of the first questions a tutor asked me at university. My punctuation and grammar were terrible. I hated English at school. 

Later, in my work as a clinical psychologist, I was good at relating to people but my reports continued to be a source of amusement. My written work was my weakness. 

As I progressed in my career, I discovered a gift for public speaking. I found telling stories was a great way to entice people to listen. In 2009 I was invited to speak at a national event for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and designed a unique workshop called ‘Shrinking the Smirch’. It encouraged my listeners to see their MS as something outside themselves, an external creature. It went down so well that the organisers asked me to turn the session into a workbook.

‘But I can’t write,’ I insisted.

‘If you can speak to people, you can write for them,’ the conference organiser batted back. To my utter amazement, ‘Shrinking the Smirch: the workbook’ won a Plain English Award. This spurred me on to write further workbooks about managing emotional distress and neurology-themed books for young people.

I didn’t plan to write a novel. I left the NHS in 2008 which gave me more time but being self-employed was lonely. So, each day, I interspersed client appointments with visits to the café across the road from my office.

One day, I noticed an unremarkable middle- aged man staring out of the window. I wondered what his story might be. 

On my iPad I wrote:

‘At this point in time, I can accurately be described as unemployed, impotent, and a liar.’

This became the first sentence of my debut novel, “Surviving Me”.

Over the next seven years I added to my story, at times it was an addiction that distracted me from work and family commitments. Tom, my main character was my secret friend for many years. Eventually, I allowed a friend to read it. She loved it and bullied me into finishing it. 

Since then, I have fielded my manuscript to countless friends and colleagues, out of paranoia and lack of confidence. I was always genuinely surprised – and encouraged – by people’s feedback. 

When unbound publishers accepted my manuscript I was delighted. The first editor asked me where I’d done my creative writing course as I didn’t have a clue what he meant by backstory, pace or point of view within the context of fiction writing. 

Fortunately, that amazing structural editor reassured me I had a lot of raw talent and helped me learn the rest. It was a steep learning curve especially as I was working full time as a clinical psychologist whilst preparing my book for publish. My poor teenagers completed their most important exams with very little parental support.

Writing helps me clear my mind of other people’s troubles. And humour is a great way to defuse some of the day’s tensions. My line of work can make you laugh and cry almost simultaneously – and I hope my characters do the same for my readers.

I still can’t believe I’m the author of a novel that is being described in reviews as refreshingly different and beautifully written.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating journey with us, Jo.

If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Surviving Me, you can buy a copy here.

Giveaway

Jo is running a giveaway with two first prizes of a signed copy of Surviving Me and a Surviving Me fridge magnet and five runner-up prizes of a Surviving Me fridge magnet. To enter, please click on the Rafflecopter link below:

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

To find out more about the book and read some reviews, please check out the rest of the stops on the tour:

Surviving Me Full Tour Banner

About the Author

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I’m very excited that my debut novel ‘Surviving Me’ is due to be published on the 14 November. The novel is about male minds and what pushes a regular man to the edge. The novel combines all the themes I can write about with authenticity.

I qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1992 and initially worked with people with learning disabilities before moving into the field of neurology in 1996. I worked in the NHS until 2008 when i left to write and explore new projects.

I now work as an independent clinical psychologist in West Sussex.

Jo speaks and writes for several national neurology charities including Headway and the MS Trust. Client and family related publications include, “Talking to your kids about MS”, “My mum makes the best cakes” and “Shrinking the Smirch”.

In the last few years Jo has been offering psychological intervention using the acceptance and commitment therapeutic model (ACT) which is the most up to date version of CBT. She is now using THE ACT model in a range of organisations such as the police to help employees protect their minds in order to avoid symptoms of stress and work related burnout. 

Social media links:

Facebook: Shrinking the Smirsch

Distorted Days by Louise Worthington #BlogTour #GuestPost (@louiseworthing9) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #DistortedDays

Distorted Days

I’m happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Distorted Days by Louise Worthington. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read and review this book for you, but instead I have a guest post from the author. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for providing the guest post for me to share with you.

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If she could speak to them, she would say they have exploded her heart, released firecrackers through her senses. She wishes she could call the police, the ambulance, the fire brigade, to arrest and anaesthetise and waterboard the bastards.

So what happens when your husband runs off with your best friend? When you discover the dead body of an old man halfway through your delivery round? When your house is burgled and you get beaten up? Doris, Andy and Colleen are about to find out. They’re also about to discover that you can find friendship and support in the oddest of places…

Heart-rending, humorous and above all authentic, Distorted Days is an exquisitely written account of the ways in which life can knock you off our feet – and how you can pick yourself up again. If you’ve experienced the fickleness of fortune, this is a book that you’ll never forget.

Now over to the author..

Be Kind by Louise Worthington

Thank you for inviting me onto you blog!

Kindness and the consequences of vicious social media posts are a theme running through Distorted Days. On social media, thousands have used the hashtag #BeKind in a plea for change, encouraging both media organisations and individuals to think more carefully about the impact of their words online.

‘If you want people to #bekind it has to be universal. Two wrongs will never make a right. So start being kind about everyone, even those you disagree with, then I’ll believe you’re genuine.’ @KirstieMAllsopp

The kindness of Colleen, Tina and Andy change Doris’ life. Dr Timpson has a role to play too in offering support to deal with depression. Despite ups and downs, the ending is a positive one – thanks to acts of kindness.

At the same time though, in Distorted Days Andy loses his job due to the vicious posts the daughter of Winston shares which highlights how upsetting and destructive social media can be. Andy had in fact helped her father at a time of need.

 ‘Dad, I don’t know whether to show you this or not but – I think you need to see it.’

She reads the messages on Twitter and Facebook. The author is Katie Howarth, and the subject is: #AndyLoveisaPredator

Andy Love is named and shamed as solely interested in verbally attacking a single, grief-stricken woman and meeting her under false pretences. Katie Howarth must have got a look at his van, so Stan’s Supermarket is berated for employing the vicious, foul-mouthed man. The verbal abuse goes as far as saying that estate agents should vet people before allowing them into the homes of vulnerable relatives to stop people like Andy preying on the bereft and the fragile, especially women on their own. In capital letters: ANDY LOVE CANNOT BE TRUSTED. She has galvanised support in the shape of likes, followers and comments, including one from Stan which hints at Andy’s contract ending abruptly because of his customer-facing role.

‘There goes my job,’ he says with sad resignation, thinking of his customers who will either think badly of him or miss his friendship. Before Jade and Bosh leave, he explains the truth behind the allegations. They stay longer than planned, thinking they are staying to help him through the shock. 

Once they’ve gone, Andy sits back on the recliner feeling winded. The slandering of his name makes him feel like he’s been quarantined in his own home. He walks around the lounge and the kitchen, not quite sure what to do with himself but unable to settle. All those lies and all those people believing them, wanting to stick their beady eyes at a peep-hole into this woman’s nasty, made-up world that she’s dragged him into. The comments she and others made sound so angry, a feverish kind of frenzy of bad-mouthing, shaming him for being a bully, a predator. 

Andy eats half a carrot cake and then finds the shoe polish in the cupboard under the sink because he needs something to do with his hands. He methodically shines the black shoes he usually wears for best occasions like interviews or funerals. 

His mobile rings. It’s Stan. ‘Sorry, mate. I’ve had cancellations. It’s just, once word gets out it spreads like the plague.’

Stifling a carrot-cake burp, Andy says, ‘It’s all lies, Stan, but I understand your point of view.’

He feels sick for his customers, his friends – especially Margaret, Dave and Gilly. He knows details about their lives that some of their own family members don’t. 

Forgive Stan for thinking he just knows which brands they like, which special offers appeal. Forgive.’ 

Doris leaves objects in her front window to share her loss which is a twist on social media posts, illustrating how one rarely knows the full story behind closed doors. Andy’s daughter Jade reads a post from a stranger who informs her she has just had a miscarriage.

‘Amy’s had a miscarriage.’

‘Never met her.’

‘Nor have I. She’s uploaded a photo of a tiny coffin.’

‘God, streuth. She should write something like that in a diary.’

‘She’ll feel empowered now she’s shared it.’

‘With potentially millions of weirdos who don’t give a damn?’

‘I’m not a weirdo. I care.’

As a parent to an eight year old, protecting children from the virtual world has never been more important. It offers enjoyment and freedom, and threats too. I had a diary which I kept under my bed, but that’s old-school now – posts on twitter or Instagram have replaced that. Who knows what the future holds, but I do know the value of being kind is both timeless and universal. #bekind 

Louise XX

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Louise.

Distorted Days is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for reviews and more great content:

Distorted Days Full Tour Banner

About the Author

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Louise is the author of ‘Distorted Days’ and ‘Rachel’s Garden of Rooms.’ ‘The Entrepreneur’ will be available later in 2020. ‘The Thief’, a short story published by Park Publications, is available to download Louise Worthington’s website.

​Before writing full time, Louise worked mainly as an English teacher after getting a degree in Literature and later, studying business and psychology at Masters level.

​Louise grew up in Cheshire and now resides in Shropshire.

Connect with Louise:

Website: https://louiseworthington.co.uk

Twitter: @louiseworthing9

 

LAST CHANCE TO ENTER! #RNA60 Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook Group Launch Competition. Win 60 Romantic Novels from 0ne More Chapter! @RNATweets @0neMoreChapter_ #Competition #Giveaway #RomanticFictionBookClub #RomFicBookClub

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Today is the closing date for the Romantic Fiction Book Club’s huge launch competition, so if you haven’t already join the new Facebook group for readers, authors and bloggers who love Romantic Fiction, you’d better get on to it quickly!

As a reminder, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, to celebrate this momentous occasion, the RNA have launched a new Facebook group, the Romantic Fiction Book Club, which aims to be a warm and cosy place for lovers of romantic fiction to engage with other readers, bloggers and authors of romantic fiction. The group is open to anyone who loves to read any type of romance, bloggers, and all authors of novels with a romantic element, not just those who are members of the RNA.

To launch the new group with a bang, we have an amazing competition for you. In conjunction with publisher 0ne More Chapter, members of the new Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook group have the chance to win an amazing bundle of 60 romantic novels, donated by 0ne More Chapter. There are also 60 runner up prizes of a single, signed romance novel, so there are a total of 61 prizes up for grabs. What amazing odds of winning something! The competition is running from 14th to 29th February., i.e. TODAY!

All you have to do to enter the competition is join the new Romantic Fiction Book Club here and then follow the link below to the competition:

One More Chapter & RNA Diamond Anniversary Giveaway

There is detailed information about how to enter on the new Facebook page, including how to increase your chances of winning by subscribing to the RNA and 0ne More Chapter’s social media links, plus, there is lots of fun interaction going on in the group. UK entries only I’m afraid. What are you waiting for, go and sign up now!

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#RNA60 Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook Group Launch Competition. Win 60 Romantic Novels from 0ne More Chapter! @RNATweets @0neMoreChapter_ #Competition #Giveaway #RomanticFictionBookClub #RomFicBookClub

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Calling all fans of Romantic Fiction! This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and, to celebrate this momentous occasion, the RNA are launching a new Facebook group, the Romantic Fiction Book Club, which aims to be a warm and cosy place for lovers of romantic fiction to engage with other readers, bloggers and authors of romantic fiction. The group is open to anyone who loves to read any type of romance, bloggers, and all authors of novels with a romantic element, not just those who are members of the RNA.

To launch the new group with a bang, we have an amazing competition for you. In conjunction with publisher 0ne More Chapter, members of the new Romantic Fiction Book Club Facebook group have the chance to win an amazing bundle of 60 romantic novels, donated by 0ne More Chapter. There are also 60 runner up prizes of a single, signed romance novel, so there are a total of 61 prizes up for grabs. What amazing odds of winning something! The competition is running from 14th February (of course!) to 29th February. Take a look at some of the fabulous titles up for grabs.

All you have to do to enter the competition is join the new Romantic Fiction Book Club here and then follow the link below to the competition:

One More Chapter & RNA Diamond Anniversary Giveaway

There is detailed information about how to enter on the new Facebook page, including how to increase your chances of winning by subscribing to the RNA and 0ne More Chapter’s social media links, plus, there is lots of fun interaction going on in the group. UK entries only I’m afraid. What are you waiting for, go and sign up now!

I’ll see you there!

(There was an interesting article about the new group and how it came about in Frost Magazine earlier this week, you might like to check it out here.)

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The Etiquette of Book Blogging: A Growing Minefield #bookblogging #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading

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I thought the thing that was going to get me most riled up yesterday was our exit from the European Union. However, having decided early on to focus solely on bookish Twitter and avoid the worst of the Brexit furore, I managed to stay relatively calm, if deeply saddened, on that front. Little did I expect that it would be bookish Twitter that would end up getting my dander up! (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase somewhere and never had the chance before.)

The cause of the annoyance? A tweet from an author stating that it was ‘pretty rude’ for readers  to tag authors in our reviews, and that most authors are of this mindset. They must just have been talking about negative reviews, I hear you cry. You’d think so, but apparently not. It’s all reviews, and tweets about reading their books, or in any way letting them know you are engaging with them at all, seemingly. Yes, letting authors know you are actually reading the books they have written for this purpose stresses them out and they would rather be left oblivious to the fact this is happening at all – save presumably for when their royalty cheques come rolling in.

I apologise for sounding a little narked, but it’s beginning to get extremely difficult for book bloggers to know what to do correctly in any given situation these days. I mean, what is the actual etiquette for blogging about books? Any new bloggers could be forgiven for not having a freakin’ clue what authors or readers want from them, there are so many conflicting opinions and reactions out there. The fact this is happening was borne out by reactions to the author’s tweet – lots of surprised ‘really?’ type responses.

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Now, I never write posts like this, by which I mean opinion pieces on book blogging. I don’t tend to engage in any controversy, because book blogging is a fun hobby for me and you can guarantee that sticking your head above the parapet isn’t the way to a quiet, happy life. There is a lot of viciousness out there, and all I want to do is spread the book love. That is it. I love books, I want to talk about them all day long to like-minded book nerds, discover new books and authors and spread the love of the books I’ve adored, support the authors I love – and, yes, tell them what their books have meant to me. I am a happy, little, sunshine-y bookworm who blogs about books for fun. That’s all there is to it. But a lot of the current negativity is taking some of the fun out of it for me, and I just wanted to talk about this a little.

Look, blogs are our personal spaces, we can do what we like with them, that is the joy of our little corners of cyberspace. But equally, it is a responsibility and, if you want to play nice with others and not be considered a douche, there are a few basic tenets of good manners we all understand. Don’t slag off books you haven’t read or were delivered damaged by Amazon. Don’t use book blogging as a way of scrounging books you have no intention of reviewing. If you volunteer for blog tours, do post what you’ve agreed to post when you’ve agreed to post it and, if you can’t, contact the organiser in good time to say why. And the biggie, the number one cardinal rule – NEVER, EVER, EVER TAG AUTHORS IN NEGATIVE REVIEWS!

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Aside from these, are there really any other blogging rules? I don’t think so.

Do you have to review everything you read, good and bad, to be taken seriously? I personally choose not to write negative reviews at all. This is an individual decision based on a number of factors: 1) I’m trying to write a book and it’s HARD, so anyone who has written one and got it published deserved a round of applause, not a kicking from me, even if I hated it; 2) Opinions are subjective and just because I disliked something doesn’t mean others will; 3) My blog is to celebrate books I love, not pull others down; 4) My mother always told me, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ However, I realise other people have a different opinion and review everything they read, good and bad. That’s fine, it’s your blog, you do you. JUST DON’T TAG AUTHORS IN YOUR NEGATIVE REVIEWS, that’s just not cool.

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I’ve received criticism for this approach, mainly on the basis that a) I’m not being honest and b) people can’t tell if they agree with my reviews if they can’t read the negative ones. I disagree. a) All of my reviews are 100% my honest opinion of the book, I just choose not to share the negative ones. This does not alter one word of the positive ones, they would read exactly the same even if the negative ones were published! b) Read my review of a book you have also read, if our opinions on that gel, you should be able to tell whether our views and tastes align or not. If you can’t, no harm, no foul, you aren’t obliged to read my blog, it is entirely optional and if you choose not to, I won’t hold it against you. My reviews are there for the people who find them helpful.

Bloggers have come in for a lot of criticism again recently for not being ‘real readers,’ whatever that means (this is a recurring debate.) Presumably this criticism is levelled at us because somehow our opinions are skewed because we have been asked to read books in advance by authors or publishers, or been given complimentary copies for review, rather than buying them ourselves. Well, I call crap on this. All the book bloggers I know are the most avid and passionate readers out there. This is why they started blogging in the first place. They read hundreds of books a year, some gifted and many not. They buy more books than anyone else. They are absolutely readers, first and foremost, and I know that the vast majority, like me, would never contemplate writing a less than honest review of a book, just because they had received a free copy. And Joanne Harris agrees.

Book Bloggers Are Real Readers

So, to the current case in point, is it rude to tag authors in positive reviews? I don’t think so and, until today, I have never had an author ask me not to tag them. The opposite is true, I am often asked to make sure I do tag the author and the publisher so they can find the reviews. In fact, in my experience, authors and publishers are desperate for good reviews and want to shout about them far and wide. They pay for blog tours and send out advance copies to generate them, they beg us to put them on Amazon and Goodreads to help boost visibility, ranking and, hopefully, sales. They share them to generate buzz about a book. For small publishers and indie authors, they are the most important publicity tool they have at their disposal. Or so we have been led to believe. Which is why tweets like this one are so confusing and disheartening. It feels like all the work we do to try and promote authors is being thrown back in our faces.

Reviews are for readers, we know this, but it would be dishonest of me to deny that engaging with authors is one of the highlights of being a book blogger. Being able to get to know our favourite authors and discover new ones, get advance notice of their new books, get an insight into their writing process, get to interact with them on social media, and even in person, is one of the joys of this. It isn’t why we do it, but it makes doing it really worthwhile. So for an author to tweet like this, in a way that makes us feel like an unwelcome intrusion in their day, that they don’t have room for engagement, or even want to know that their readers exist and are loving their books, and to assert that they speak on behalf of all authors – well, it’s a bit of a slap in the face. A ‘we’ll take your money but please don’t bother us’ vibe that is unedifying.

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Look, when I tag an author in a post, I’m not expecting them to engage with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love it if they do, but it’s not anticipated. That isn’t why I do it. I do it so they can see the review and share it if they think it will help publicise their book. I do it so they can read it if they wish and, knowing someone loved their work, feel a bit happier and a bit like what they are doing has meant something to somebody, somewhere. I do it so the readers who do read my posts can go to their feeds and maybe find out more about the author and their work and engage with them. For me, it is about being part of a community sharing a love of books. If you don’t want to engage, that is fine, just ignore me. But please don’t accuse me of being rude.

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I’m sure being a writer isn’t easy, even my limited experience so far has given me that much insight. However, insulting the very people who are your biggest fans, who are most firmly on your side and who are going out of their way to tell the world and its wife how brilliant your books are and how much they love them, isn’t the way to win friends and influence people. It’s just likely to mean the people who are most likely to buy and read your books avoid doing so. The more obstacles, insults, hurdles and criticism bloggers face for expending time and energy and love on doing something for free, the less they feel valued and and the more they feel denigrated for doing it, the more likely it is they will simply stop. Because, if it’s not fun any more, if we can’t do right for doing wrong in someone’s eyes, what exactly is the point?

There must be ways around this for authors who don’t want to be notified of book reviews. Make a note in your profile that you don’t want to be tagged, maybe? Most reasonable people would respect this, and the unreasonable ones are going to do what they want whatever you do or say in any event. Make your account private, or don’t be on social media at all if you don’t want to interact with your audience. Unfortunately, social media is not a one way street, interaction is the whole purpose of it. Just ignore those tweets, no one is going to think the worse of you for it, that is your prerogative. I fear, however, that putting your work out into the public domain is opening yourself up to some interaction with the public, however much you wish that weren’t so, it goes with the territory. It’s always a risk, a bit like this blog post in fact.

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Maybe this post is unwise. Maybe I’ll get up in the morning and delete it without posting it. Maybe I’ll get a barrage of abuse, or it will pass by unnoticed. Or maybe, just maybe, it might help us see one another’s perspective. I love book blogging. The bookish community is the happiest, friendliest place I’ve found to be and I’ll keep doing it as long as that continues to be true. If there are rules I’m not following, let me know, the last thing I ever want to do is upset anyone, truly. But, until I hear otherwise, I’ll keep doing what I do, how I do it, including tagging authors in my reviews and, I hope they will appreciate that I do it, not to be rude, but because I have loved their book and I want to tell the whole world that it was great (or at least the very minuscule part of the world that reads my blog.)

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Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S. M. Stevens #BookReview #BlogTour (@SMStevens17) #HAHG #AlmostCounts

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Today I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Horseshoes and Hand Grenades by S.M. Stevens. My thanks to the author for asking me to take part in the tour and for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Fragile but practical Shelby Stewart and ambitious, confident Astrid Ericcson just want to start their PR careers in 1980s Boston and maybe find a nice guy to hang out with. But long-buried memories of incest at the hands of her local hero stepfather keep interrupting Shelby’s plans, affecting her health one way after another. And when will she actually date someone her friends think is good enough for her?

Astrid thinks she wrote the book on How to Get Ahead by Flirting but is forced to re-visit her career advancement strategy when her boss Brad takes the innuendos to a whole new, scary level, threatening her job and her safety.

Suddenly, instead of taking charge of their lives, both women find themselves spinning out of control.

In this fast-paced story for the #metoo generation, the women reach new highs and lows in life, work and romance, while struggling to make sense of the abusive relationships that haunt them.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book, to be honest. I tend to approach books that purport to have a message with a certain amount of trepidation, as they can often be a little preachy and earnest, which is not something I particularly enjoy in my fiction. However, I have to say that this book really took me by surprise, being thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time, and reaching the perfect balance of both.

This book follows the lives of two young women, Shelby and Astrid, who find themselves in the same circles as they both start work in a PR firm in Boston. Very different women, they don’t get on to begin with, but they are both struggling with private demons and eventually find they have more in common than they believed at first. I am sure most readers will be able to identify with one or other of the main characters – I am more of an Astrid than a Shelby for sure – or at least find some common ground with them, which makes them very sympathetic vessels for the story. I found them both very well drawn and honest portraits of young women. As someone who would be only a few years younger than them, starting my working life in the early 90’s, their stories and behaviour definitely struck chords with me and my experiences.

And this is the crux of the book. Astrid’s story, in particular, rung some uncomfortable bells and made me think back to things that happened to me as a young, professional but inexperienced woman starting work in a legal firm, in a very male-dominated specialism. Whilst not having to deal with things going as far as they do for Astrid, I certainly had some encounters that made me uncomfortable at the time and, looking back, amounted to sexual harassment and an abuse of power by men in senior positions. And I can understand why I, at the time, and Astrid in the book struggled to know how to deal with them. The fact that these experiences will be commonplace for most women reading this book makes me immensely sad and furious at the same time, and I hope that the world has moved on and things have improved for when my, currently teen, daughters hit the work place.

And it isn’t just in the workplace that the women struggle with self-image, self-worth and drawing boundaries, it happens in the home and in social settings too. And one thing that did strike me about the book is that it is not condemnatory of men in general, only those with predatory intent. It also does a good job of highlighting how women can be messed up and make poor decisions based on past experiences and their upbringing, plus societal expectations of the female gender. There are also instances of women objectifying men in a way that we probably need to examine, as well as pointing the finger at the opposite sex for their bad behaviour. All in all, it does a good job in provoking internal questioning on gender politics in general, and for that reason can make for uncomfortable reading at times.

If this does all sound like it is veering to the issue-heavy read I baulked at in the opening paragraph though, I’m giving you the wrong impression. All of these issues are presented by way of an entertaining and pacy story of three young women navigating their way through the early years of adulthood and freedom and learning some difficult truths and important life lessons along the way. There was not a part of this book that was dry or heavy or lecturing and I fairly raced through it. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it infinitely more than I anticipated and I owe the author an apology for every doubting that it would be different.

This is a book for anyone who is interested in examining gender politics at the same time as enjoying an entertaining story of female friendship and empowerment.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the rest of the blogs on the tour for alternative reviews of the book:

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About the Author

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S.M. Stevens began writing fiction during back-to-back health crises. First, she broke her pelvis in three places in a horseback riding fall, and used the recuperation period to write Shannon’s Odyssey, a middle-grade novel for animal-lovers. Soon after, Stevens was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. During her five months of treatment and subsequent recovery spell, she wrote Bit Players, Has-Been Actors and Other Posers for musical theatre-loving teens. Two additional Bit Players novels followed. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is her first adult book. After watching reactions to the #MeToo movement, she decided it was time for a novel that takes people into the minds of victims so they can understand why many women don’t speak up about their harassment or assault, and why some do. When not writing, she provides marketing and public relations services to solar energy companies. She is from Gorham, Maine, and now lives in Clinton, Mass., and Washington, N.H. She has also lived in Italy and in the U.K., where she was Group Public Affairs Director for National Grid.

Connect with S. M. Stevens:

Website: https://authorsmstevens.com

Facebook: Author S M Stevens

Twitter: @SMStevens17

Instagram: @s.m.stevens

Tempted by…Emma R: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris @rowsonemma1 @Anstey_Harris @simonschusterUK #TheTruthsAndTriumphsOfGraceAtherton #bookbloggers #amreading #readingrecommendations

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The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is the story of a woman who has her heart broken, but then puts it back together again in the most uplifting and exquisite way.

Between the simple melody of running her violin shop and the full-blown orchestra of her romantic interludes in Paris with David, her devoted partner of eight years, Grace Atherton has always set her life to music.

Her world revolves entirely around David, for Grace’s own secrets have kept everyone else at bay. Until, suddenly and shockingly, one act tips Grace’s life upside down, and the music seems to stop.

It takes a vivacious old man and a straight-talking teenager to kickstart a new chapter for Grace. In the process, she learns that she is not as alone in the world as she had once thought, that no mistake is insurmountable, and that the quiet moments in life can be something to shout about …

Today’s Tempted by … is The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris as recommended in this blog post by Emma Rowson on her marvellous blog.

Emma makes the book sound so appealing with her descriptions of the characters and the plot of the novel and how it made her ‘spine tingle.’ Could there ever be more inducement to pick up a book than the fact that it made the spine of a blogger you admire tingle? I was also intrigued by the way she describes the music in the book being like another character and I am really looking forward to reading it and finding out exactly what she means by this. Emma’s obvious connection go the central character was also another big draw for me and probably sealed the deal in me buying a copy. I am really looking forward to finding the time to read this book.

If you haven’t discovered Emma’s blog yet, please do make sure you go over and have a look around. I really love the consideration she gives her reviews and the straight forward honesty of them. I always feel like her personality really comes through and she feels like a friend I can discuss my love of books with over a cuppa. Maybe one day! You can find Emma’s blog by following this link: https://emma-r.com

And if you are tempted to get you own copy of The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, you can find it here.