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

Desert Island Books: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams; Narrated by Stephen Fry

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It’s an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. At this moment, they’re hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed, in large friendly letters, with the words: DON’T PANIC.

The weekend has only just begun . . .

Is there anyone who needs me to tell them why I would want to take Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a trilogy in five parts (Yes, I’m having all five books, I’ve got them in a version that is just one volume so it totally isn’t cheating) to my desert island with me? Presumably only someone who has never read it, because noone who has ever picked up these books could fail to fall in love with them.

Look, I know that science fiction isn’t a genre that appeals to everyone; indeed, I myself am not a huge reader of sci-fi, but these books are so, so much more than a simple sci-fi series. They are hilarious and clever and astute and a damning commentary on the ridiculousness of human beings and the futility of existence and a celebration of those very same things. There has never, in my opinion, been anything quite like it before or since and the phenomenal popularity of the series (they’ve been translated into more than 30 languages) bears witness to this. They were a no brainer as an addition to my Desert Island books.

The basic story follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a rather boring man who is whisked away from Earth by his best friend, Ford Prefect,  moments before our planet is demolished by the Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyper-space bypass. It turns out Ford is not an out-of-work actor, as Arthur believed, but an alien from the plant Betelguise who is a field researcher for a kind of inter-planetary Lonely Planet handbook called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur then accompanies Ford around the Universe, discovering all kinds of extraordinary things.

This sounds far from extraordinary, but the summary does not do justice to the wit and sharpness with which Adams imbues the text and the deft comedy and piercing observations that pepper the book. True fans absorb the comedic prose into their very beings and you will often find in-jokes from the books creeping in to all kinds of discussions and debates. A bunch of EU law experts were referencing the book (and in particular, the virtues, or lack thereof, of Vogon poetry) during a Twitter debate about Brexit last autumn and it made my soul sing. In fact, one of the category headings of my blog is a direct nod to the title of the third book in the series; this is how deeply the novel is woven in to my psyche.

I have recently inducted my fourteen-year-old daughter in to the joys of the book and was delighted to hear her laughing out loud during the same audio version I have just listened to. I must have been around the same age when I first discovered it, and I have been in love with the books ever since, and I will never get tired of them. They make me laugh, and their comedy fills me with joy. They are the perfect eternal companion on my desert island.

The audio version (of the reading of the book, not the original radio shows) is very well done. Stephen Fry is always a delight to listen to, although he is forever associated in my mind with Harry Potter now when I listen to him. I have only made it through the first audiobook so far, but I have The Restaurant at the End of the Universe ready to go and plan to get through them all again this year. These books make my heart happy, what more can I say?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Douglas Adams created all the various and contradictory manifestations of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: radio, novels, TV, computer game, stage adaptations, comic book and bath towel. He lectured and broadcast around the world and was a patron of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Save the Rhino International. Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, UK and lived with his wife and daughter in Islington, London, before moving to Santa Barbara, California, where he died suddenly in 2001. After Douglas died the movie of Hitchhiker moved out of development hell into the clear uplands of production, using much of Douglas’ original script and ideas. Douglas shares the writing credit for the movie with Karey Kirkpatrick.

Book Review: The Cactus by Sarah Haywood Narrated by Katherine Manners #AudiobookReview

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It’s never too late to bloom.

People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green – family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand, but Susan makes perfect sense to herself, and that’s all she needs. At 45, she thinks her life is perfect, as long as she avoids her feckless brother, Edward – a safe distance away in Birmingham. She has a London flat which is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other more intimate benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. When she discovers that her mother’s will inexplicably favours her brother, Susan sets out to prove that Edward and his equally feckless friend Rob somehow coerced this dubious outcome. But when problems closer to home become increasingly hard to ignore, she finds help in the most unlikely of places.

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reviewing this book, I listening to it ages ago. I think maybe I have been afraid that I wouldn’t do the book justice, I loved it so much.

This book is the story of a very unusual woman, and her character is so perfectly formed and then tested by the author that I defy anyone not to be entranced by the story. Susan is a woman whose life is perfectly ordered. She knows exactly who she is, what she is doing, how she wants things to be, and she has it all arranged perfectly, from her flat, to her job, to her relationship of convenience with Richard, who seems to think exactly as she does. Which is a miracle, because nobody sees the world exactly as Susan does. The best thing about her, for me, is her absolute belief that she is always right, her way of approaching things is obviously correct and pretty much everyone else in the world is an idiot that needs to be tolerated at best. Her disdain for most of humanity as irredeemably stupid drips off the page and it is delightful.

You might think a woman like this would be hard to relate to as a character, but it isn’t so. I think because the author sets her up so early on with problems that we, the reader, can see are going to force her to adjust her view, because when we meet her family we can possibly understand that a great deal of her spiky ways have developed as armour against the tribulations of her early life and her dysfunctional family, and because other characters who are more likeable in the book see her as a redeemable character, so we do too. The writing is so clever in this regard, I have to tip my hat to the author.

This book is incredibly warm and funny. The situation that Sarah puts Susan in, finding herself pregnant in her forties, would be ripe for comedy in any situation but, given how ordered and uptight Susan is, the chaos of pregnancy and childbirth is magnified tenfold. There were parts of the book that had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part where she and Richard meet to discuss how they are going to handle the parenting of this unexpected child was delightful in its naivety for anyone who has children. Then the incident with the Bananagrams towards the end of the book made me laugh so hard I had tears in my eyes. I read someone else’s review of this book that claimed it was not as funny as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I would beg to differ, I found this much funnier.

As I have now brought up Eleanor Oliphant, I want to say that anyone who loved that book will really enjoy this one. It is a similar social misfit tale, but a completely different story. Sarah obviously has so much love for the character of Susan, it shines from the page and makes the reader fall in love with her too. I listened to this book as an audiobook in the end, even though I originally got the book via NetGalley, but when I had finished it, I immediately went and bought a hardback copy for my shelves because I know I will want to return to it again and again.

I just wanted to say a word about the audio version of this book. I think listening to it via audio gave Susan a really strong voice for me. She is from the West Midlands, and the narrator has the accent down perfectly throughout. I am not sure about you but, when I read text, even if the author places the cast in a particular location, I never read with an accent in my head. Listening to someone read with the accent really cemented Susan as alive and kicking for me, and her tone and pacing was also perfect for the character. I think this is one of those stories where the audio really enhances the story and I would highly recommend it (although it did take me several days to get the Birmingham accent out of my head after finishing the book!). The narrator was perfect and I don’t have high enough praise for her performance, as the narration makes or breaks an audiobook.

The Cactus is already on the shortlist for being one of my Top Ten books of the year. I cannot express how much I adored it. It is no surprise to me that it was chosen by Reese Witherspoon for her book club and everyone who hasn’t read it should get a copy now. It is the perfect antidote to the dark days we are currently living through and you could do a lot worse that share your isolation with Susan Green.

The Cactus is out now in all formats and you can get yourself a copy here.

About the Author

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Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. After studying Law, she worked in London and Birkenhead as a solicitor, in Toxteth as an advice worker, and in Manchester as an investigator of complaints about lawyers. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and lives in Liverpool with her husband, two sons and two ginger cats.

Connect with Sarah:

Website: https://www.sarahhaywoodauthor.com

Facebook: Sarah Haywood Author

Twitter: @SarahxHaywood

Instagram: @sarahjhaywood

Blog Tour: When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson #BookReview

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Sometimes life can be bittersweet . . .

Between tending to the whims of her seven-year-old and the demands of her boss, Viv barely gets a moment to herself. It’s not quite the life she wanted, but she hasn’t run screaming for the hills yet.

But then Viv’s husband Andy makes his mid-life crisis her problem. He’s having an affair with his (infuriatingly age-appropriate) colleague, a woman who – unlike Viv – doesn’t put on weight when she so much as glances at a cream cake.

Viv suddenly finds herself single, with zero desire to mingle. Should she be mourning the end of life as she knows it, or could this be the perfect chance to put herself first?

When life gives you lemons, lemonade just won’t cut it. Bring on the gin!

It is my turn on the blog tour today for When Life Gives You Lemons by Fiona Gibson. My thanks to Sanjana Cunniah at Avon Books for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is my first book by Fiona Gibson, and I’m now wondering why I haven’t read anything by her before because this novel was right up my street, definitely what I needed to cheer me up and take my mind off my enforced isolation.

It probably helped that the main character of Viv could, in many ways, be me. I haven’t related this closely to the main protagonist of a novel in a long while. It is so refreshing to see a menopausal woman of a certain age as the main character of a mainstream book, and one who is so unassuming but kickass as Viv. Although I have to say, the thought of having a seven-year-old at the age of 52 (which would be the equivalent of me currently being in charge of a toddler) filled me with abject horror! Those days are far behind me, thankfully (although dealing with teens can be just as bad) and I admired Viv’s fortitude in this regard.

The writing in this novel is light and upbeat and easy to read throughout and I fairly flew  through the pages. The plot and tone and characters are all very engaging, and it was very easy to immerse myself in their world and care about what was going on. I really loved the fact that Fiona did not make any of the characters canonised saints or absolute sinners, which sometimes can happen when an author wants us to sympathise with a protagonist and her decisions. Here, although Viv’s husband behaves like a cad, he is not a pantomime villain with no redeeming features, just an ordinary, if slightly weak, man, and this makes it much easier for the reader to believe in him and Viv’s reaction to him. All in all, I felt like all of the characters and their behaviour were realistically portrayed.

What made this book a real winner for me, though, was the painfully and brutally honest portrayals of peri-menopause and what it does to a woman, both physically and emotionally. As someone who is going through this stage of life at the moment and has, at times over the past three years felt like her body has been hijacked by an alien who keeps doing very undignified things to it, it was refreshing to see someone talking about this out loud and taking the sting out of it. At times this book had me absolutely howling with laughter. The part when Viv’s boss takes her out to lunch to discuss a potential new role for her in the company was a particular highlight. A good chuckle at women in my current situation was the tonic I never knew I was missing.

On the downside, I may never eat another Wotsit.

This book was funny and pacy and all-round delightful. If you looking for an easy, upbeat read to get you through quarantine, I highly recommend it.

When Life Gives You Lemons is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the blog tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Fiona Gibson is the author of 15 romantic comedy novels, including the best-selling The Mum Who Got Her Life Back (Avon), which celebrates the empty nester years. Under the name of Ellen Berry, she also writes the heartwarming Rosemary Lane series (Snowdrops on Rosemary Lane is out in January 2020).

Fiona grew up in West Yorkshire, before working on Jackie and Just Seventeen magazines – in those heady pre-internet days when it was thrilling to get a free plastic mirror taped to the front of your magazine. She went on to edit More! magazine, where she introduced the infamous Position of the Fortnight. After having twin sons and a daughter, Fiona started to write novels, usually at night with the house full of toddlers and builders. She was sleep deprived anyway so it really didn’t make any difference.

She also loves to draw, paint and run – by some miracle she managed to finish the London Marathon 2019. With the kids all grown up now, she and her husband Jimmy live in Glasgow with their collie cross, Jack.

Connect with Fiona:
Twitter: @FionaGibson
Instagram: @fiona_gib

 

The Ballad of Fat Labrador (Weekend Rockstars Book 2) by Dave Holwill #BookReview (@daveholwill) #WeekendRockstars #TheBalladOfFatLabrador

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I’m delighted to be reviewing The Ballad of Fat Labrador by Dave Holwill on the blog today. My thanks to the author for asking me to review the book and for providing me with a digital copy, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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It’s been a blissful ten years since George put down his bass, left the Artful Badgers and vowed never to play in public again. But when tragedy strikes his best friend he’ll do anything to help. 

Unfortunately that means going back out on the road, and this time he’s taking his daughter with him.

Alice has realised she wants more from her best friend than she is prepared to give and the band they have spent so long building up may not survive the fallout. 

Luckily her dad has the perfect plan to take her mind off of it.

It might feel more like a support group than a band, but if George can’t keep it under control then it could destroy his best friend’s life, his daughter’s happiness and what’s left of his own sanity.

Join George, Alice, Tim and a whole host of familiar faces as George is dragged back into a world to which he hoped he’d never have to return.

This book is ostensibly a sequel to Dave’s first book, Weekend Rockstars. That is actually the only book by Dave Holwill that I haven’t read, so I am in a strong position to say that The Ballad of Fat Labrador works perfectly well as a standalone. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any back story or was confused about what was going on because I hadn’t read the first book.

This is the third book I have read by this author and, although they have all been different as far as plot and genre and tone go, they all have one thing in common, and this is that they are completely driven by character. This author is a genius at drawing likeable, compelling and realistic characters that work brilliantly to bond with the reader and carry the plot. This book is peopled with … well, people that I fell in love with and was happy to spend several hours in the company of, sharing their adventures. In fact, I was very sad to part company with them at the end of the book.

We follow the adventures of George, a retired guitarist from covers band The Artful Badgers, who now works for the Post Office and manages his 17-year-old daughter’s musical duo. Then events conspire to upset the ordered progress of his life and he finds himself back in a band to support his bereaved best friend through his grief, and his daughter whose band splits. Cue a litany of mishaps as a ragtag group take to the road in search of fame and glory and peace of mind. It is a wonderful premise for a plot and, given the detail of what goes on, the author has obviously included a lot of personal experience in the writing of this novel.

This book is written with such warmth and affection that reading it is like snuggling down under a blanket with a bottle of wine with your best friend for an evening reminiscing about your misspent youth, as seen through a couple of pairs of rose-tinted spectacles. The characters felt like real people, and people you want to spend time with, and they evidently care deeply about each other. Through the bickering and mishaps and bad decisions, what shines through in this book, is a real sense of love and family and, when it boils down to it, that is what this book is about. Friendship and family and being there for one another through good times and bad. And how family is more than just the immediate people you are born to or married too. It is messy and sprawling and complicated and just yours, whatever you make it and however you make it work, and it is what keeps you going through the ups and downs of life.

As well as all the philosophical and soppy, mushy stuff, this book is hilariously funny. It is a warts and all look at the life of a low level band, playing covers in pubs and working men’s clubs, musical differences, shifting line ups, no sex, a few drugs and not very rock and roll. And lots of men called Lawrence. I came away from reading it with a huge smile on my face and a Ready Brek glow around my heart. A lovely piece of work that deserves attention.

The Ballad of Fat Labrador is out of 14 February and you can pre-order a copy here. If you fancy reading the first book in the series first, Weekend Rockstars is available here.

About the Author

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Dave Holwill published his first book, Weekend Rockstars: a romantic comedy loosely based on 25 years as a gigging musician, in 2016. He followed this up with dark comedies The Craft Room and Gap Years before bringing out the sequel to Weekend Rockstars, The Ballad Of Fat Labrador, in 2020. He lives in Devon with his wife and a not inconsiderable number of pets.

Connect with Dave:

Website: http://daveholwill.com/index.html

Blog: http://davedoesntwriteanythingever.blogspot.com

Facebook: Dave Holwill

Twitter: @daveholwill

Instagram: @dave_holwill

Rumpole of the Bailey by John Mortimer Narrated by Robert Hardy #BookReview #audiobook @audibleuk @TheFictionCafe #FictionCafeBookClub #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2020 #challenges #freereading #RumpoleOfTheBailey

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In these witty and comic stories, Horace Rumpole takes on a variety of clients and activities. He, of course, brings each case to a successful end, all the while quoting poetry and drinking claret.

This is the second book I have chosen for the 2020 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The second category for the challenge is ‘A book by an author who shares your initials.’ Hence, Julie Morris = John Mortimer.

It was Crown Court that started it. A lot of you won’t remember it, but those of a certain age may recall this TV show which ran during my childhood, to which I was completely addicted. In fact, I didn’t even realise that it was drama to begin with, I thought they were real criminal trials being shown on TV, and this was made me want to become a lawyer.

To begin with, I wanted to be a barrister, and this ambition led me in turn to the novels of a real-life barrister, John Mortimer, and his most famous character, Horace Rumpole.

I read all of the Rumpole books multiple times when I was younger, rabid as I was for tales of legal life. Of course, these books are not really representative of life as a barrister, and I ended up taking an entirely different route in my legal career, away from the Bar and criminal law to the non-contentious role as a corporate solicitor. I continue to love a legal-based book though, and discovered Caro Fraser’s Caper Court series, John Grisham and, more recently, the novels of Gillian McAllister and Peter Murphy. But Rumpole will always have a soft spot in my heart.

I haven’t revisited the books in a long time, although I still have my original copies, and they do feel somewhat dated now. The law and society have changed so much in the interim, and the writing may come across as rather un-PC when viewed through a modern lens. They are certainly books of their time, and Rumpole is no modern man by today’s standards. He could not get away with referring to his wife as ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ these days, thankfully.

However, if you read them of products of the time in which they were written, you can still see the appeal they had to a young, wannabe barrister. The writing is clever and fluid, Rumpole is a loveable rogue and defender of the underdog, wily but charming, a distinctive personality of a type which I doubt exists at the Bar any more. The books portray an era of legal practice long gone which, in some respects is to be mourned although in others society has improved. And the books are very funny (maybe only in some respects to lawyers. There were blank looks on my daughters’ faces as I laughed like a drain at the joke ‘Agent provocateur, you don’t get many of those in conveyancing.’) I still found much to enjoy in the book when I listened to it within its original frame of reference.

I really enjoyed my amble down youthful memory lane with this book. I won’t consign my old Rumpole books to the recycling bin just yet. I’m not sure I’ll be persuading my daughters to pick them up any time soon though.

Rumpole of the Bailey is available here.

About the Author

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Sir John Mortimer was a playwright, novelist and former practising barrister. During the war he worked with the Crown Film Unit and published a number of novels, before turning to theatre. He wrote many film scripts, and plays both for radio and television, including A Voyage Round My Father, the Rumpole plays, which won him the British Academy Writer of the Year Award, and the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

Mortimer wrote four volumes of autobiography, including Clinging to the Wreckage and Where There’s a Will (2003). His novels include the Leslie Titmuss trilogy, about the rise of an ambitious Tory MP: Paradise Postponed, Titmuss Regained and The Sound of Trumpets, and the acclaimed comic novel, Quite Honestly (2005). He also published numerous books featuring his best-loved creation Horace Rumpole, including Rumpole and the Primrose Path (2002) and Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders (2004). All these books are available in Penguin.

Sir John Mortimer received a knighthood for his services to the arts. His authorized biography, A Voyage Around John Mortimer, written by Valerie Grove, is also published by Penguin (2007).

Sir John Mortimer passed away on January 16, 2009.

Tales of What The F*ck by D. A. Watson #BookReview #BlogTour (@davewatsonbooks) @WildWolfPublish @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #TalesOfWhatTheF*ck

Tales of the What the Fck

I’m happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Tales of What The F*ck by D. A. Watson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for the blog tour invitation and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Billionaire terminal cancer patient John Longmire’s going to die today, and he’s going out in style in the classiest euthanasia clinic in the world. But the strange nurse with the clipboard and the look of a goddess is spoiling the mood, with all her irksome questions about how he’s lived his life.

Recent retiree Gerald loves his wife Barbara and he loves his garden, but Barbara hates the garden. Because the garden’s taking Gerald over, and Barbara says he has to stop before he has another ‘incident’.

Bullied, ridiculed and unloved, moustachioed schoolgirl “Hairy” Mhairi Barry has never had any friends but the ones she finds on the shelves of the library where she’s spent most of her lonely childhood. But tonight, she’s going to a party with all the cool kids, to show them what she’s learned in all those books.

A suspicious smelling smorgasbord of lovelorn psychopaths, vengeful mugging victims, pawn shop philosophers and rhyming Glaswegian alien abduction, Tales of the What the Fuck is a dark, touching, horrific and hilarious collection of short stories, flash fiction and epic poetry from People’s Book Prize nominated author D.A. Watson. Things are about to get weird.

Well, I stepped well outside my comfort zone with this book, but that is always one of the pleasures of book blogging, reading things you would not normally pick up. This is definitely a book that would not usually find its way in to my reading schedule, and I’m still not 100% sure what I just read, but it certainly shook me out of any reading complacency I may have found myself in!

This book is extremely hard to categorise, such a random mix of flash fiction, poetry and short stories across a very diverse bunch of genres, with not much to link them except the perverse mind that wrote them all. And I think that the mind which came up with all of these may be something we don’t want to dwell on too much, because a lot of the stories are very dark and twisted!

Any one of a squeamish disposition should steer well clear, along with anyone offended by swearing. However, readers of a more robust and curious nature may wish to dip a toe in and explore this unique compendium of dark tales. If you do, you will encounter the unexpected at every turn, come face to face with criminals, psychopaths, aliens and much, much more around every corner, and wonder how you ended up where you find yourself.

The big draw for this book is that parts of it are very funny, if your sense of humour takes a turn towards the black side, and there are a lot of wry observations on the vagaries of modern life and relationships. This book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is certainly different, and the author is obviously talented, lending a hand to a lot of different styles. One for those times when you fancy stretching the boundaries of your experience and opening your mind a little.

Tales of What The F*ck is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for the reactions of other bloggers to this book.

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About the Author

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D.A. Watson was halfway through a music and media degree at the University of Glasgow and planning on being a teacher when he discovered he was actually a better writer than musician. He unleashed his debut novel In the Devil’s Name on an unsuspecting public in the summer of 2012, and plans of a stable career in education left firmly in the dust, later gained his masters in Creative Writing from the University of Stirling.

He has since published two more novels; The Wolves of Langabhat and Cuttin’ Heads, a collection of short fiction and poetry, Tales of the What the F*ck, and several acclaimed articles, poems and stories, including Durty Diana, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in the US in 2016, and the Burns parody Tam O’ Shatner, prizewinner at the Falkirk Storytelling Festival and Dunedin Burns Poetry Competition, and nominated for the People’s Book Prize in 2018.

Watson’s writing has appeared in several anthologies and collections including 404 Ink, Dark Eclipse, Speculative Books, Haunted Voices and The Flexible Persona, and he is also a regular spoken word performer, with past gigs at Bloody Scotland, Tamfest, Sonnet Youth, Express Yourself, Clusterf*ck Circus, and the Burnsfest festival in 2018, where he appeared on the main stage as the warm up act for the one and only Chesney Hawkes, a personal milestone and career highlight.

His fourth novel Adonias Low will be released by Stirling Pubishing in 2021. He lives with his family in a witch infested village on the west coast of Scotland, and continues to write some seriously weird sh*t.

Connect with Dave:

Facebook: Dave Watson Books

Twitter: @davewatsonbooks

Desert Island Books: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson #BookReview #travel #travelwriting #bookbloggers #bookblog #desertislandbooks #readinggoals

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In the company of his friend Stephen Katz, Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

So, the first of the twelve books that I will be taking with me to my desert island for my Desert Island Books feature is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

I love Bill Bryson’s writing, his travel books in particular, but out of all of them this one is my favourite. I must have read it half a dozen times now and it still fascinates me, makes me thoughtful and makes me laugh, all at the same time. I don’t think I will ever get bored of it.

I had a quick look at the reviews on Goodreads of this book just prior to writing this review. The book has an average of 4 stars, but the most prominent review on the first page was a one star by someone who took exception to pretty much everything about the book’s content and the way it was written, which quite surprised me. The review is so prominent, despite being 13 years old, because it has an exceptionally high number of comments on it, as other Goodreads members debated the merits of the review, and the book, back and forth. It is quite clear that this is a book that divides people.

Oddly, the majority of the things people listed as reasons for disliking the book, were the things that make it one of my favourite reads, so I guess you need to decide if these are things that appeal to you.

This is a book about Bill Bryson’s mid-life trek along the Appalachian Trail, a 2,200 mile wilderness footpath that traverses a mountainous route through the forests of the eastern USA from Georgia to northern Maine. Now, I love to read about other people’s travel adventures, and I find this one particularly appealing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love the USA and this book covers a couple of the areas of the US that I am particularly fond of – the south eastern states and New England. I  personally have been to the mountains of North Carolina, parts of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampsire and Maine. I’ve stayed at the Mount Washington Hotel and travelled to the top of Mount Washington via the famous cog railway mentioned in the book. I’ve been to Franconia Notch State Park in Vermont. I’ve visited the town Bryson lived in when he wrote this book, Hanover in New Hampshire, so some of the places he talks about are familiar and I can clearly visualise them and it is always interesting in a book to get someone else’s view of something you yourself have experienced. Equally, there are many places in the book I have never been but sound enticing, and I know for a fact that, whilst I might dream about hiking the Appalachian Trail, it is something I will never do, so I can live it vicariously through Bryson’s experience.

This book is extremely varied as it covers, not only his actual experience of physically hiking the trail, but a lot about the people he meets, the climate and weather of the region, geology and history of this part of the USA, information about the flora and fauna and how that is changing, the development and management of the trail, socio-political history of some of the areas he passes through, and much more. Some people find this annoying and accuse him of ‘hopping about’. I find it all fascinating and, for me, it gives the whole experience a context and a richness that really brings it to life and gives it relevance in the mind of the reader. The author obviously shares my insatiable thirst to know everything about everything he sees on his travels and really understand it. I do huge amounts of reading about a destination and its history before I travel, which deepens my interest and enjoyment of a place, and this is the perfect approach for those fact hounds amongst us.

Another thing some people seem to find a negative about this book is Bryson himself and his authorial voice. I do wonder if this is a matter of national perspective. Whilst Bryson is American by birth, he has spent the better part of his life living in the UK and his humour is very British in nature. He relies heavily on self-deprecation, sarcasm and irony and this is not a type of humour that appeals to everyone. I recall from his book, Notes From A Big Country, (a book about how he and his British family adjust to life in the US after living in the UK for many years) an anecdote about how his wife had to ask him to stop making jokes with his American neighbour, because his neighbour didn’t understand them and their exchanges were giving his neighbour migraines. Some people seem to think Bryson comes across as mean and a bit superior, but I actually find that the biggest butt of his jokes is always himself and he is actually very amusing and gives the book a very light-hearted and entertaining tone, rather than it being a heavy and torpid read, despite the fact in contains huge amounts of factual information. He has a real way with words; his prose is vivid and lyrical. He writes the way I would love to write and I could read it endlessly.

I read a lot of travel writing, because travel is a passion of mine, and for me this represents the absolute best of the genre, mixing anecdotes with a lot of interesting factual information and history, and conveying it all in a clear, fun and pacy package. If you have enjoyed Bryson’s other writing, you will love this book. If you don’t like him, you will hate it because his voice is strong and clear throughout. Maybe the Marmite of travel books, but I, for one, will never tire of Marmite on my desert island.

If you have been tempted by this review to want to read A Walk in the Woods for yourself, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. Settled in England for many years, he moved to America with his wife and four children for a few years, but has since returned to live in the UK. His bestselling travel books include The Lost Continent, Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods and Down Under. His acclaimed work of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything, won the Aventis Prize and the Descartes Prize, and was the biggest selling non-fiction book of the decade in the UK.

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen by Ada Bright and Cass Grafton #BookReview #BlogTour (@missyadabright @CassGrafton) @canelo_co @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #TheParticularCharmofMissJaneAusten

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Delighted to be a late addition to the blog tour for The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen today. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey for asking me to step in and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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When a time travelling Jane Austen gets stuck in modern-day Bath it’s up to avid Janeite Rose Wallace to save her… because she’s the only one who knows that Jane exists!

Rose Wallace’s world revolves around all things Austen, and with the annual festival in Bath – and the arrival of dishy archaeologist, Dr Aiden Trevellyan – just around the corner, all is well with the world…

But then a mysterious woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to the great author moves in upstairs, and things take a disastrous turn. Rose’s new neighbour is Jane Austen, whose time travel adventure has been sabotaged by a mischievous dog, trapping her in the twenty-first century.

Rose’s life is instantly changed – new home, new job, new friends – but she’s the only one who seems to have noticed! To right the world around her, she will have to do whatever it takes to help Jane get back home to write Rose’s beloved novels. Because a world without Mr Darcy? It’s not worth living in!

I was intrigued by the premise behind this book as soon as I read the blurb and, being a huge Jane Austen fan, could not resist picking it up and seeing where it would take me. To some bizarre places is the answer, but it was a lot of fun to go along with the ride.

We follow the adventures of Jane Austen devotee, Rose, as she prepares for the visit of her online friend, whom she has never met in person before, and the annual Jane Austen festival in Bath. She is also trying to suppress her feelings for a hunky archaeologist who happens to be one of her clients. Then a mysterious neighbour moves in upstairs and this is when her life takes a weird turn.

This book took a little while to get going, to be honest. There was quite a lot of time spent setting up Rose’s current life in Bath and giving hints about the real identity of her new neighbour, before all is revealed and the action really starts. I could have done with it getting moving a bit quicker but, that being said, it is easy reading and I did very quickly fall in love with Rose, her friends and her life in Bath. This is very important when we come to the part where everything is threatened by some strange twists of fate.

Quite what mind-altering substances led to the plot of this book being conjured up are something you will have take up with the authors, I hadn’t realised that excessive consumption of Mansfield Park could have this effect, but it certainly is out of left field. However, if you can just go with it and suspend your disbelief for the duration of the book, you will have a lot of fun with Rose and Jane on their adventures.

I thought the authors did a great job capturing the spirit of Jane, and the charm and appeal of Bath. Also, despite the fact this is a light and breezy read, I did feel a great deal of tension when Rose’s life is changed and the future looks like a world without the novels of Jane Austen in it. There was definitely a sense of peril there which was a little unexpected after the first half of the book and the stress had me turning the pages looking for my happy ending!

I particularly love the fact that the authors obviously share my appreciation of Persuasion as Jane Austen’s finest book and the letter written by Captain Wentworth as the most romantic letter ever written in English literature and something all men should be using as a template if they really want to capture a woman’s heart. Imagine a world without that letter in it? Inconceivable! (I know, that’s from The Princess Bride, I’m on a roll with my favourite romances here, just go with it.)

Despite a slowish start, this book is a sweet, charming, pleasurable, if slightly off-the-wall, read that I highly recommend and I really look forward to reading the second book in the series. If I could ask just one thing, I would wish that the paperback had the same cover as the digital version as I really LOVE it and would adore to have a copy to grace my shelves.

The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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

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About the Authors

Ada

Ada has lived all her life in Southern California, which makes her intolerant to any weather above or below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. She grew up much more fond of reading than sports or socializing and still tends to ignore everyone she loves, all her responsibilities and basic life needs when she’s in the middle of a book.

She is luckily married to a handsome and funny man who doesn’t mind that the laundry never gets put away and she has three amazing children. Ada spent over a decade as a photographer before dedicating herself to writing, though she still believes that life should be documented well and often.

There is nothing she loves more than a good, subtle love story whether it be in real life, tv, movie, theatre or book form… well, except cake. She also really loves cake.

Connect with Ada:

Facebook: Ada Bright

Twitter: @missyadabright

Instagram: @adacakes

Cass Grafton

A proud bookworm since childhood, Cass writes the sort of stories she loves to read – heart-warming, character driven and strong on location. Having moved around extensively and lived in three countries, she finds places inspiring and the setting of her novels often becomes as much a part of the story as her characters.

She has an over-active imagination, is prone to crying with happiness as much as she is at sadness, but when it comes to her writing she leans heavily towards the upbeat and insists on a happy ever after. As one of her favourite authors, Jane Austen, once wrote, ‘let other pens dwell on guilt and misery’.

Cass loves travelling, words, cats and wine, and enjoys them in any combination. She currently splits her time between Switzerland, where she lives with her husband, and England, where she lives with her characters.

Connect with Cass:

Facebook: Cassie Grafton

Twitter: @CassGrafton

Instagram: @cassgraftonauthor

Cass & Ada have a joint website, which you can find at https://tabbycow.com.

The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue by Samantha Henthorn #Spotlight #BlogTour (@SamanthaHfinds) @annecater #RandomThingsTours #CurmudgeonAvenue

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The house on Curmudgeon Avenue should be happy now, the nincompoop residents have all met their sorry ends. But they haven’t quite left… now that a new family move in can the house find peace? Or are the ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue going to interfere with the goings-on, romance and dramas that new residents bring?

Gordon and Zandra Bennett – along with their lovelorn daughter Krystina move all the way from London to Curmudgeon Avenue. Zandra has her heart set on renovating the four-storey Victorian terrace and hires Harry to rip out the old and bring in the new. Wonder how that will go down with the grumpy, yet proud house? Not to mention Harold, Edna and Edith who are trapped in their previous home with no choice but to haunt Krystina, moan about the new layout and get up to mischief.

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue by Samantha Henthorn. Many thanks to Anne Cater for my place on the tour.

I’m shining the spotlight today on a fun and witty book which is the fourth in a series set in the same house, this time with added ghosts!

The Curmudgeon Avenue books are a series in which the house in which they are set is the narrator of the books, a unique twist on the narrative style which allows us to see all the goings on from an omniscient viewpoint. And what goings on they are! In this book, the former residents of the house have all been killed off in a series of freak accidents, but have returned to haunt the house and cause havoc for the new residents.

Reviewers have described this series, and the new book in particular, as amusing and highly entertaining, and the writer’s style as quirky, frenetic and endearing. If this sounds like something that is up your street (please excuse the pun!), then why not grab a copy of this book or, better yet start at the beginning of the series.

The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue is out now and you can buy a copy here, along with the preceding books in the Curmudgeon Avenue series.

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

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About the Author

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Samantha Henthorn was born in 1970-something in Bury, England. She has had short stories and poetry published in magazines. Her books include the Curmudgeon Avenue series (The Terraced House Diaries and The Harold and Edith adventures). ‘1962’, ‘Quirky Tales to Make Your Day’ and ‘Piccalilly’

She has two cats, one dog, one gorgeous grown up daughter and one husband. When not reading or writing, she is listening to heavy metal and would be thrilled to bits if someone read her books.

Connect with Samantha:

Website: https://samanthahenthornfindstherightwords.blog

Facebook: Samantha Henthorn Author

Twitter: @SamanthaHfinds

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