Book Review: Love in Lockdown by Chloe James

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Do you believe in love before first sight?

Lockdown is putting Sophia’s life on pause – just as she planned to put herself out there and meet someone. When the first clap for the keyworkers rings out around her courtyard, she’s moved to tears for all kinds of reasons.

Jack is used to living life to the fullest. He’s going stir-crazy after just days isolating. Until the night he hears a woman crying from the balcony under his. He strikes up a conversation with the stranger and puts a smile on her face.

Soon their balcony meetings are the highlight of Jack and Sophia’s days. But even as they grow closer together, they’re always kept apart.

Can they fall in love during a lockdown?

This book was reviewed at the request of the author. I received a digital copy via NetGalley, so my thanks go to Avon Books for supplying the book for review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I am sure there are going to be a proliferation of romance novels set during these strange lockdown times we have been suffering over the last nine months and, I have to say, it was with some trepidation that I approached this book. I am not a fan of gimmicky books that are written just to take advantage of a current trend, they often lack in any passion or conviction. Having just finished Love in Lockdown by Chloe James, wiping tears from the corner of my eyes, I am delighted to say that this is definitely not one of those books and I absolutely loved it.

The book follows the stories of Sophia and Jack who live above one another in a block of flats. They have never met but, as the UK goes into lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic, they introduce themselves during the Thursday night ‘Clap For Carers,’ and things move on from there. The question is, is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you’ve never seen.

The author has done an absolutely fantastic job of capturing a lot of the tiny things that became symbolic of the pandemic and the unique times we are currently living in. The sense of isolation, but also the new community spirit and idea of caring for others that has grown up out of necessity in recent months. All of the familiar goings on are here – the difficulty of getting supermarket delivery slots, lack of flour, trying to explain Zoom to the elderly generation, NHS rainbows, the importance of pets, antibaccing your shopping, bad haircuts, socially-distanced weddings, furlough, and everything else that is the new normal. Does anyone even remember what the world used to be like?

Despite the fact that she has shoehorned all of this into the book, it never feels contrived or unnecessary. The writing is done in such a sympathetic and understanding way that it is very difficult to believe this book was written while lockdown was going on, and not with the benefit of some distance from the experience. I am amazed that she has managed to achieve such balance and beauty in the writing in these circumstances; there is no doubt that the author is very talented.

There were so many really touching moments in the book that moved me to tears, and other moments of real humour. It is a very uplifting book, which I wasn’t expected, mired as we in this as an ongoing problem and something that is causing so much anguish still. I know that for many people it is going to be too soon to be reading about the situation in a piece of fiction, it is still too close and raw a pain, but if you do want to read a novel set in this time, you won’t do much better. If you are a fan of books such at Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, this has a similar feel and I am sure you would enjoy this.

Love in Lockdown was an unexpected, positive pleasure and I would not hesitate to recommend it to romance fans everywhere.

Love in Lockdown is out as an ebook on 23 November, and in paperback in March 2021, and you can pre-order your copy here.

About the Author

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Chloe James is a pseudonym for Fiona Woodifield whose debut novel, ‘The Jane Austen Dating Agency‘ was published in February 2020.

Fiona writes uplifting romantic comedies. When not to be found with her head in a book, she is usually out in the countryside enjoying the changeable British weather with her family and three dogs.

Connect with Chloe:

Website: https://fionawoodifield.co.uk/

Facebook: Fiona Woodifield

Twitter: @FionaWoodifield

Instagram: @f.woodifield

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Book Review: A Bicycle Built For Sue by Daisy Tate

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Getting on her bike will change everything…

Sue Young has never asked for much apart from a quiet life. She’s always been happy with her call centre job and dinner on the table at six o clock; that was until a tragedy tore her tranquility into little shreds.

With her life in tatters, Sue is persuaded to join a charity cycle ride led by Morning TV’s Kath Fuller, who is having a crisis of her own, and Sue’s self-appointed support crew are struggling with their own issues. Pensioner Flo Wilson is refusing to grow old, gracefully or otherwise, and a teen goth Raven Chakrabarti, is determined to dodge the path her family have mapped out for her.

Can the foursome cycle through saddle sores and chaffed thighs to a brighter future, or will pushing themselves to the limit prove harder than they thought?

I’m delighted to be posting my review today of A Bicycle Built For Sue by Daisy Tate. Daisy kindly provided me with a digital proof of the book for review, and I have done so honestly and impartially.

I’m so far behind with writing my reviews at the moment, that I need to apologise for anyone waiting for one from me, which is at least four or five people. As much as I like to think that I am a ruthlessly organised blogging robot, and most of the time I am, underneath I’m just a fallible human and I’ve been thrown off course in recent weeks. I am doing my best to get back on track and all outstanding reviews will be posted in the next few weeks, I hope.

So, this review should have gone up yesterday and my apologies go to Daisy for being a day late. But now I have got round to posting, I have to say that this book took me totally by surprise.

This is a book I went into with absolutely no pre-conceptions or expectations. I hadn’t seen any reviews or heard anything about it at all. Daisy approached me and asked me to read it, and the blurb sounded interesting, so I agreed. It started off as a quite fun, pleasantly different family saga, but over the course of the novel evolved into something so much more profound and I was completely blown away. I’m now wondering why I haven’t seen more buzz around this book, because it is something quite special.

We have the story of three very different women thrown together into friendship by a quirk of circumstance, who seem to have very little in common to begin with, but it becomes apparent that this is an illusion and they can relate to one another in unexpected ways. And when it boils down to it, for me, this is the fundamental take away from the novel. That, as human beings with human emotions and the experiences of living, we all have more in common that we know if we just stop, listen and try to understand.

The characters in this book are very disparate but all relatable. We have teenage Raven, trying desperately to find her place in a world where she doesn’t know where she fits, or who she is. Her parents have certain expectations of her, but she is not sure if they fit with her needs and the process of asserting her individuality in the face of their demands is a painful one. There is Sue, whose contented view of her life is shattered by a tragedy she did not see coming and which has filled her with guilt and doubt to the point that she can’t see her way forward. Then we have Flo, a septuagenarian who worries that time is running out and is resisting old age with every fibre of her being. An unlikely trio who find ways to bond and help each other out.

They decide to take on the challenge of a charity bike ride along the route of Hadrian’s Wall, with daytime TV host, Kath, who has her own demons and relationship problems to deal with. Over the course of the challenge, all four women learn so much about themselves and what they want and need going forward, drawing strength from one another along the way, that they come out at the other end different people with changed perspectives and new levels of self-awareness.

This may seem like an extremely unlikely scenario, but the author writes with such honesty and conviction, such charm and understanding that the resulting story is something so moving and truthful that it reduced me to tears. By the end of the book I was completely in love with all of these amazing females and their relationships with each other that I was cheering them on to the finish and beyond, and I was very sorry when the story ended. The whole thing was humorous and charming and entertaining, but with some serious issues underpinning the narrative that were handled in a very sympathetic and illuminating way. I adored everything about it, it may end up being one of my books of the year and that was certainly not something I was expecting when I began it.

This is an astonishing story hiding beneath an unassuming facade. The blurb doesn’t do the depths of the tale justice and I wish it had much more buzz surrounding it. It needs to be out there, being read and discussed and loved and praised. I hope this review is a start. Read the book. Shout about it. It deserves it.

A Bicycle Built For Sue is out now as a ebook and will be published as a paperback and audiobook in January. You can buy a copy here and the ebook is currently a 99p bargain!

About the Author

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Daisy Tate loves telling stories. Telling them in books is even better. When not writing, she raises stripey, Scottish cows, performs in Amateur Dramatics, pretends her life is a musical and bakes cakes that will never win her a place on a television show. She was born in the USA but has never met Bruce Springsteen. She now calls East Sussex home.

Connect with Daisy:

Website: https://daisytatewrites.com/

Facebook: Daisy Tate

Twitter: @DaisyTatetastic

Instagram: @daisytatewrites

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Blog Tour: Love & Pollination by Mari Jane Law #Extract

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I’m very happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Love & Pollination by Mari Jane Law and I’m thrilled that I can share an extract from the book with you. My thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for offering me a place on the tour.

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Perdita Riley is facing the greatest dilemma of her life. Why had she taken Violet Freestone’s advice on how to make herself look more alluring? It led her into the arms of a womaniser. And now Perdita has to deal with a huge setback. Actually, Setback Number One isn’t huge yet, but it won’t be long before it is.

To cheer herself up, Perdita goes shopping, where an extraordinary encounter deposits her, literally, into the lap of Saul Hadley. She would like to stay there, but Setback Number One is going to get in the way.

Will she find a way to deal with what has happened? Can she manage the complications of her growing attraction to Saul?

Extract from Love & Pollination

“Perdita glimpsed her reflection in the bathroom mirror.

If she’d been attacked by an over-ripe tomato, she wouldn’t have appeared much different. But peering at her blotchy skin and swollen eyes was not going to help with either Setback Number One or Setback Number Two. She splashed her face with water, smoothed down her brown bob and went back to the sofa to bury herself under her duvet and think.

The doorbell rang. It was too early for the post.

Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she buried herself deeper under the bedding. But the doorbell pealed again.

‘Perdita?’ A male voice sounded through the letterbox. And she recognised it. ‘Perdita, we know you’re in there. We heard you moving about.’

Damn. What had happened to privacy? Although Luke and Gavin were the closest thing to family she had, taking her under their wing from the day she’d moved into the flat in Clifton, she didn’t want them to see her like this. Nevertheless, she donned her dressing gown, padded to the front door and opened it a crack.

‘Hi,’ Luke and Gavin said in unison, smiling brightly at her. They were dressed ready for work: Luke in fitness instructor gear, and Gavin, an undertaker, wearing a smart dark suit.

‘We’re worried about you,’ Luke said. He was bigger than Gavin, taller and broader.

‘We heard you crying last night,’ Gavin explained.

‘And, if it’s a matter of life or death, you have both of us calling so you can take your pick.’

Opening her mouth to comment on the lack of sound-proofing between the floors of the flats, and to say she was okay and that she didn’t need any assistance, she suddenly blurted, ‘Can you find me a job?’”

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If this extract has whetted your appetite for the book, you can buy a copy of Love & Pollination here.

Make sure you look out for reviews and other content for this book as it takes a tour around the blogosphere this week.

About the Author

Mari Jane Law lives in the UK. She loves books, TV series and films that make her laugh and, through her writing, discovered she could make other people laugh as well. She hopes those who buy or borrow her work have as much fun reading it as she had in writing it! 

Love & Pollination is the first in a series of whacky romantic comedy novels she is working on. Her characters appeal so strongly to her that she is unable to let them go – hence the series. She enjoys their humorous behaviour, quirky personalities and sharp, witty dialogue.

She was very pleased to have been shortlisted for Choc Lit’s 2019 Search for a Star competition.

Member of Cambridge Writers.  

Connect with Mari Jane:

Website: https://marijanelaw.com

Facebook: Mari Jane Law

Twitter: @MariJaneLaw1

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Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

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I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

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Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

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Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Blog Tour: Wife Support System by Kathleen Whyman #BookReview

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I’m taking my turn on the blog tour today for Wife Support System by Kathleen Whyman. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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We’ve got the balance all wrong. Instead of living with our partners, struggling to do everything by ourselves and only seeing each other now and then, we should do it the other way round. We should live together and see them now and then.

Erica knows her suggestion sounds extreme, but when her nanny leaves without notice, she’s extremely desperate. Polly and Louise aren’t convinced, but when circumstances force them to move into Polly’s enormous but run-down house, they have to admit life’s much easier when the childcare and work is shared.

At first, communal living seems like the answer to their prayers – childcare on tap, rotas for cleaning and someone always available to cook dinner (no more last-minute pizza delivery!). But over time, resentment starts to grow as they judge each other’s parenting styles and bicker over cleaning, cooking and whose turn it is to buy toilet rolls.

And as one woman has her head turned by a handsome colleague, one resorts to spying on her husband and another fights to keep a dark secret, they need each other more than ever. But can Polly, Louise and Erica keep their friendship and relationships strong? Or will their perfect mumtopia fall apart?

This book was so much fun! And, as a single mum of two teenage daughters, I can completely relate to many of the  dilemmas faced by the three women in this novel. If you are a woman with children, with or without a husband, there are scenarios in this book that will ring scarily true to you too, without a doubt.

When I read the blurb for this book, I wondered why no one had come up with this plot for a book before, it is absolute genius. The scenario that Kathleen sets up makes so much practical sense. Many of us will know that some men are hopeless at providing help and support with childcare and household chores. I think lockdown has shown this into even sharper relief, as I read an article recently that showed the burden of extra childcare in quarantine had fallen mostly on women. I know, shocking, right? Women everywhere have taken on the burden of looking after children, homeschooling and all the extra housework while schools have been closed, as well as trying largely to work from home. I doubt there are few women who will deny that this has been a hard period for a lot of us mums, so the idea of a female commune where everyone chips in with help as needed is more appealing than ever.

Of course, there are reasons why people don’t do this, despite its appeal, and why the experiment doesn’t run smoothly. Some people don’t pull their weight, there are personality clashes, jealousy, misunderstandings, tensions, hormones. The author milks all of these matters for dramatic effect, with lot of comedy thrown in. The book explores issues of misogyny, romantic neglect, relationships, friendships, grief and loss, mental health issues, female life/work balance and a lot of other things to make this a book with some bite, as well as being charming and entertaining.

I thought the book was innovative and original, moving, appealing and easy to read. The author has a very winning voice that I enjoyed reading, and the book was pacy and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would definitely recommend it as a lively read for anyone who likes this type of comedic, mum-focused fiction with quite a lot to say.

Wife Support System is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you follow the rest of the tour for more reviews and other content:

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About the Author

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Kathleen Whyman is an author and freelance journalist.

Her debut novel, Wife Support System, was inspired by her own feeble attempt to juggle a career with childcare, never-ending house ‘stuff’ and, outrageously, occasionally some time for herself. She is still struggling.

Kathleen’s novel Second Wife Syndrome has been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize 2020.

Both novels are contemporary, humorous, women’s fiction.

Kathleen writes a column for Writers’ Forum magazine and contributes to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s magazine Romance Matters. She also wrote short stories for Jackie magazine in her teens. These were, thankfully, never printed.

Kathleen lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two daughters.

Connect with Kathleen:

Twitter: @kathleenwhyman1

Book Review: Cock and Bull by Laura Barnard #PublicationDay

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Who knew that owning a pub would come with so many extras?

When Phoebe and Ella Bellerose left England behind to run the Irish pub they’d inherited, it sounded like a great adventure… until they saw for themselves what a wreck they’d been left.

With no experience, a severe lack of money, and a rival pub owner threatening to ruin them, the two girls aren’t convinced they can actually make this work.

Not until they meet Clooney Breen, who just so happens to be packed with charm, charisma, and barman skills that could help them all survive. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the son of Cock & Bull’s biggest rival, and he’s desperate to help Ella and Phoebe teach his father a lesson.

But can mysterious Clooney, with his obvious secrets and desire to be their saviour, really be trusted? Or are they being played by this handsome lothario who seems too good to be true? Their problems only seem to grow and grow, until Phoebe discovers a ‘gift’ of her own that changes everything for all of them…

Today is publication day for Cock and Bull by Laura Barnard, a small town, enemies to lovers romance, set in rural Ireland, and I am delighted to be sharing my review with you as part of Laura’s publication day celebrations. She’s also having a release party, with a host of author giveaways, in her facebook group – Laura’s Barn-Hards, so make sure you head over there for that. My thanks to Laura for inviting me to take part in today’s launch and for providing me with an advance digital copy of the book for review.

This book is a really great, fun romp of a read with a lot of surprising twists, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It contained a lot of my favourite elements in a romance read – women overcoming adversity, a small town setting, full of quirky characters, sizzling sexual chemistry and, my favourite element of all, a very hot, Irish hero!

Two sisters being left a rundown pub in Ireland is not a storyline I’ve come across before and I was eager to see how Laura would deal with this, knowing how much the Irish love their pubs! The set up allowed for a lot of mishaps and laughs, which Laura mined to the full, so the idea worked really well. It also allowed for the introduction of Clooney, the son of a rival pub owner, and set up the sizzle between him and Phoebe, which was the heart of the book. The relationship between Phoebe and Clooney works absolutely brilliantly, there is real passion between the two on the page, as they swing between acrimony and attraction throughout the book. Readers who love a friends to lovers romance will adore this relationship.

On top of this, Laura gives Phoebe another quirk which adds an extra comedy dimension to the proceedings. I don’t want to say too much more and give away the plot, but it comes out of left field and really adds some hilarious moments to the story. I can guarantee that you will absolutely not see it coming!

On thing I will say about the book is that it does not pull any punches on the intimacy front, so anyone who likes closed door romances might want to give it a miss. It also contains a lot of swearing so, again, anyone who is squeamish about this won’t appreciate it. It does, however, accurately reflect the way real people talk and behave, so if swearing doesn’t bother you, and you like your romance with a lot of fire, this is a book for you.

A real quirky, fun, hot and honest romance with a big dose of comedy and a very original plot. It clips along at a handsome place, so you definitely won’t leave you with any bored moments. Very entertaining.

If you like the sound of Cock and Bull, it is out today as an ebook and paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to head over to Laura’s Facebook and Instagram accounts and enter the competition to win a signed copy of the paperback and a £10/$10 Amazon Gift Card.

About the Author

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Amazon Best Seller Laura Barnard lives in Hertfordshire, UK and writes quirky British romantic comedy. In her spare time she enjoys drinking her body weight in tea, indulging in cupcakes the size of her face and drooling over hunks on Pinterest.

She enjoys wearing yoga pants and reading fitness magazines while sitting on the sofa eating chocolate. She’s a real fan of the power nap, loves setting her friends up together and of course READING!

She writes not to get rich or famous, but because she LOVES writing. Even if one person tells her they enjoyed her book it makes the midnight typing worth it!

Connect with Laura:

Website: https://www.laurabarnardbooks.co.uk

Facebook: Laura Barnard Books

Instagram: @laurabarnardauthor

Blog Tour: Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage by Liz Hurley #BookReview

Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage

Delighted to be on the blog tour today for this beautiful, summery looking read, Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage by Liz Hurley. Thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me on to the tour, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Sitting alongside the beach and just up from the gently lapping waves, sat a perfect cottage. She had found where she was going to live. Her own little cockleshell cove.

Ever since the Byrne sisters – ArianaAsterClemPaddy and Nic – discovered they were heiresses to the vast Hiverton fortune, their lives have never been the same. No longer living in poverty in London, they now own an estate in Norfolk, a castle in Scotland and a picturesque village in Cornwall.

When sensitive Paddy, the baby of the family despite her successful career as a model, swaps the catwalks of Paris Fashion Week for the cobbled lanes of Tregisky on the beautiful Cornish coast, it’s time for her to stand on her own two feet.

Soon, she’s settled in her new home of Cockleshell Cottage overlooking the wild surf, the seals her closest companions.

And when she meets ex-soldier Hal, she’s instantly smitten. Funny, considerate, and not to mention drop dead gorgeous, he’s perfect in every way apart from one – he’s engaged. But after a misunderstanding brings the two together in ways they couldn’t have imagined, it seems like they might just change each other’s lives.

Will Paddy fall in love with more than just the glorious blue skies of Cornwall? Or are there storm clouds gathering ahead?

This is the second in the series featuring the Byrne sisters, and I really loved the first book, A New Life For Ariana Byrne, (you can read my review of that book here), so I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one. Having read it, I can tell you that this book works perfectly well as a standalone novel, so don’t be put off if you haven’t read the first book.

This book follows the story of Paddy, one of the de Foix sisters who is a twin, and she is a totally different character to Ari, so this added an intriguing divergence from the first book from the beginning. Despite the fact she has been working as a model since she was 16, her other sisters seem to think she is a bit helpless and they fuss over her and baby her, which she finds infuriating. I wonder if any of my three younger sisters can sympathise! Given how her sisters treat her, I was rooting for Paddy to make a go of her mission in Tregisky from the off, just to prove them wrong! The author very cleverly gets the reader on her side from the beginning.

The setting of this book is escapist perfection, a tiny seaside cottage, covered in shells where Paddy can go sea-swimming with seals. Take me there immediately! I defy anyone not to enjoy being transported to this idyllic Cornish setting for a few hours, especially when we have all been locked in our homes for so long. I guess some people may find it a bit too twee, but if you are a fan of this type of romance novel, you will love it. The premise of the family owning a whole village and having to manage it, and all its eclectic tenants is inspired and novel, and gives the author chance to introduce a great range of fun, eccentric minor characters.

The romance between Paddy and Hal develops nicely along, possibly predictable, but challenging lines that will keep you interested. I like the way that Liz makes us really dislike Hal early in the book so he has to work hard to win us round, and throwing in the scheming and manipulative Bianca gives enough conflict to carry the book along at a nice clip. A very satisfying plot, all in all.

If I had one minor complaint, it would be that the time line is a little disjointed at the beginning, doing time jumps that don’t flow particularly well. I had to check back at one point to make sure there wasn’t some text missing from my proof copy. This made the narrative a little angular to start with. Not a word I have ever applied to a novel before, but it seemed the best way of describing it. I wish the transitions had been smoother. However, this was not a problem that the first book had, and it soon ironed itself out in this one, so I would not say it was too detrimental to my enjoyment of the story.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes this genre of sweet romcom. The relationship between the five sisters continues to delight me, and I am hoping we get Clem’s story next. I think the premise the author has used to bind the series together is fresh and interesting, and I definitely want to read on. A lovely, summer read.

Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the other fabulous blogs taking part in the tour:

Cornish Dreams at Cockleshell Cottage Full Tour Banner

About the Author

When I grew up I wanted to be an underwater archaeologist or an astronaut but I ended up in a library. Everyone laughed as I’m not a naturally quiet person but I loved it. I went on to become a professional librarian for the money and the glamour. Not finding quite enough of either my husband and I set up a bookshop.  We didn’t find much there either so I started writing. Now I have loads of money and glamour but only in the pages of my books! In the meantime I dive and look at the stars.

Connect with Liz;

Website: https://www.lizhurleywrites.com

Facebook: The Other Liz Hurley

Twitter: @hello_hurley

Instagram: @liz_hurley_writes

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