The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly #BookReview

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In December 2018, after fifty years of belly-laughs, energy and outrage, Billy Connolly announced his retirement from live stand-up comedy. It had been an extraordinary career.

When he first started out in the late sixties, Billy played the banjo in the folk clubs of Scotland. Between songs, he would improvise a bit, telling anecdotes from the Clyde shipyard where he’d worked. In the process, he made all kinds of discoveries about what audiences found funny, from his own brilliant mimes to the power of speaking irreverently about politics or explicitly about sex. He began to understand the craft of great storytelling. Soon the songs became shorter and the monologues longer, and Billy quickly became recognised as one of the most exciting comedians of his generation.

Billy’s routines always felt spontaneous. He never wrote scripts, always creating his comedy freshly on stage in the presence of a live audience. A brilliant comic story might be subsequently discarded, adapted or embellished. A quick observation or short anecdote one night, could become a twenty-minute segment by the next night of a tour.

Billy always brought a beautiful sense of the absurd to his shows as he riffed on his family, hecklers, swimming in the North Sea or naked bungee jumping. But his comedy can be laced with anger too. He hates pretentiousness and calls out hypocrisy wherever he sees it. His insights about the human condition have shocked many people, while his unique talent and startling appearance on stage gave him license to say anything he damn well pleased about sex, politics or religion.

Billy got away with it because he has always had the popular touch. His comedy spans generations and different social tribes in a way that few others have ever managed.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories brings together the very best of Billy’s storytelling for the first time and includes his most famous routines including, The Last Supper, Jojoba Shampoo, Incontinence Pants and Shouting at Wildebeest. With an introduction and original illustrations by Billy throughout

The fourth category in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book by an author you would like to meet.’ I could not choose between two authors for this challenge, so I decided to do one in paperback and one in audiobook format. The first book I have chosen is Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly. As an interesting aside, this was the last book I bought in an airport, on a trip to New York in February 2020. Remember the days of buying books in airports? I  wonder when they will come around again!

I’ve been a massive Billy Connolly fan for many years. I’ve got lots of DVDs featuring his standup and travelogues, and I was lucky enough to see him live twice. He never fails to make me laugh, even just on a chat show. So it was with great sadness I heard about his retirement, although entirely understandable in his circumstances.

I was looking forward to reading this book in which he has gathered many of his most famous stories for posterity. Billy never really told ‘jokes,’ they were always funny anecdotes and tales, often poking fun at himself or other absurdities he saw in every day life. He often talked about sex and bodily functions, and was very sweary and he makes no apology for that, so the book would not be for anyone who did not like this in his live shows because Billy is exactly the same in the book as when performing. If you did love his humour though, you will find many of your favourite stories within these pages.

The book is split in to chapters on different, loosely connected topics, but otherwise it is fairly randomly organised with just little anecdotes and longer ones interspersed with comments, thoughts and musings on his life and career. Some people won’t like it because it isn’t a particular linear format, but then Billy’s comedy was never like that. He would start on a topic and then wander off at a tangent when other things occurred to him before looping back round to the original story (or sometimes not!), so the book is a good reflection of his style and really brought him to life for me.

I could hear his voice telling these familiar, and some unfamiliar, stories very clearly. Parts of it made me laugh out loud and I had to keep stopping to read bits aloud to The Irishman who kept asking me what I was laughing at. It was a book that really cheered me up during this lockdown. However, it is not the same as watching Billy perform, and you realise how much his expressions and gestures and movements added to the comedy of his story-telling. The ‘Wildebeest’ example illustrates this best. It is many people’s favourite story of Billy’s, but it just isn’t as funny when you can’t see him doing the vacant expression of the wildebeest and the actions of the lions as they plan their attack.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this but it can’t replace Billy’s performances, and I for one will miss him terribly. I wish I could have met him in real life just once before Parkinson’s started to take effect. I’m sure it would have been great craic.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories is out now in all formats except audio and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sir William Connolly, CBE is a much-loved Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor. He is the recipient of a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award and is regularly voted the nation’s favourite stand-up comedian. Billy was born and raised in Glasgow and now lives in America. He announced his retirement from live performance in December 2018.

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman; Narrated by Lesley Manville #BookReview

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In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings.

But when a local property developer shows up dead, ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ finds themselves in the middle of their first live case.

The four friends, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, might be pushing 80, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

It’s book three of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period. The third category is ‘A book by someone who is famous for something else.’

I have chosen The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, who is obviously better known for being the co-host of Pointless as well as presenting other TV shows. This was one of the biggest books of 2020 and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it!

I am often a little wary of picking up a book that has had as much positive hype as this had, for fear of being disappointed, but I have to say that I was charmed and delighted by this book, which gave me everything I was expecting and so much more. It is a fun, cosy crime novel, as you would expect from the blurb, infused with the humour of four OAPs investigating a crime in their retirement village, but it is also an affectionate and authentic look at what it means to get older and the challenges and obstacles that brings.

Four friends in a retirement village set up an amateur sleuthing group to mull over cold cases, details of which have, rather naughtily, been squirrelled away by a retired female Detective Inspector, who is now in a coma after a stroke. The remaining members recruit a replacement, just in time to investigate a real crime that lands on their doorstep, when a local property developer turns up dead. They employ all kinds of tricks and wiles to infiltrate the official police investigation (highly improbably, but this isn’t meant to be realistic in this regard, it is all very tongue in cheek) and exhibit some real ingenuity in cracking the case. The joy and gusto with which they embrace the investigation are entertaining to read about. Richard has created four different, realistic and absolutely delightful characters to take us through the story. They are very unlikely friends, but gel brilliantly together and I adored each of them. Man-mad Joyce, fiery ‘Red Ron,’ the ex-Union agitator, cerebral and methodical Ibrahim and Elizabeth, queen bee with a mysterious past in … well, we never quite know what it is she did, but their are hints from which we can draw our own conclusions. Age has dulled none of their faculties and, add to this their age-earned no-longer-give-a-toss attitudes and they are a force that no one can withstand, certainly not the unfortunate police officers who are given their ‘help’ in the investigation.

However, aside from the fun and games of the investigation, the book gently explores what it means to get older and the challenges that brings. Loss of partners and friends, memory loss, neglect by children, the feeling of being a burden, loneliness, being misunderstood and treated like you have suddenly become ‘less’ than you were before, are all explored here with kindness and care. Richard does not belittle or mock his characters for their ageing bodies or minds, he acknowledges that, whatever age you are, we are all the same inside and deserve the same care and respect, and that these people still have a great deal to offer society and the people they come into contact with. He offers them dignity, agency and excitement and we enjoy going along with them for the ride. He has really captured their voices, and the things that they care about (an obsession with cake being one!) and I just really loved his portrayal of them all.

This book is warm, fun, humorous, kind, enchanting, intelligent and entertaining. It was exactly the tonic I needed at the time I read it (during the grim, cold, dark January lockdown days) and left me with a warm glow at the end. I cannot wait for the second book to come out this autumn. Lesley Manville is the perfect narrator for the audiobook, she really brought the characters to life, and the audio version also includes a 45-minute interview of Richard Osman by Marian Keyes at the end, which was a bonus delight. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a bit of a lift.

The Thursday Murder Club is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Richard Osman is a British television producer and presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first and, so far, best novel.

Connect with Richard:

Twitter: @richardosman

Instagram: misterosman

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Book Review: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz #BookReview

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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 have reviewed this book at the request of the author. My thanks to Karen for providing me with a digital copy of the book for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I owe Karen an apology. I should have reviewed this book back in the autumn when I finished reading it. Unfortunately, it fell into the black hole of the period where my blogging mojo just completely disappeared and I am only now just catching up. I am hoping it is better late than never.

A tale of two journeys, seventy years apart. In 1949, Ernesto makes the long and arduous journey from the jungles of Belize to a new life in the US. Seven decades later, his great-niece makes the journey in reverse. Each is accompanied by a human and a non-human companion, taking in the scenery along the way and contemplating their lives. The book has everything you could possibly want in a novel – great characters, travel, humour and examination of the human condition. A pretty great achievement.

All of the characters in the book are compelling, and the dynamics between them work brilliantly to enlighten and entertain. Awkward Colin who intercepts a text meant for someone else  embarks on an unlikely journey that changes his humdrum life. Luci, in search of her family heritage finds herself accompanied by a man she has never met. Both of them riding the lumbering, flamboyant and temperamental Miss Mango. Who would be crazy enough to try and navigate the route from the USA to Belize on an orange tractor? In the other direction, we see young Ernesto set off in pursuit of love, on foot, accompanied by a kind-of-stolen donkey and a brand new friend. In both tales, the non-human characters have as much personality and relevance to the story as the humans, and it is delightful to read.

The real stars of this story though are the journeys and the scenery along the route. The author does a fabulous job of describing what each group encounters along the way, bringing the landscape and the people of the countries to life and making the reader feel like they have actually been there. Belize is obviously a place for which the author feels great affection, and this seeps from between the pages until you will be wishing you could dash off there and experience it for yourself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was tender and beautiful and insightful and humorous. A love letter to Belize and the importance of our roots, no matter how far we travel from our homeland. Well worth a read.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now as a paperback or ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Karen wrote a guest post for the blog last summer about Belize, the setting for this book, and you can read it here.

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_

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Blog Tour: Fake by Roz Kay #BookReview

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James Cowper-art dealer, gambler, thief-is going straight and on the brink of redeeming himself with his disillusioned wife, Imani. He’s still broke, but all he needs to take care of that is a rare art find. Then trouble arrives in the shape of a scheming landlord and an unwelcome dinner party with his boss. As events spin out of his control it appears that nobody, including Imani, is what they pretend. And over everything looms one make-or-break question for James: can he get a grip on his exploding life?

Today is my turn on the blog tour for Fake by Roz Kay, and I want to thank Emma Welton at damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t sure about this book at the beginning. During the first couple of chapters, I wasn’t sure about the writing style, it felt a little over-written, with the protagonist a little too flamboyant, too much of a smart arse for me to like. However, since I had promised a review, I persevered and, by the end of the book I was very glad I had, because the book was charming, funny and filled me with joy when I had completed it. Quite a turnaround!

I think it just took me a while to get used to the voice of James and, once I had, I was quickly drawn in to his life, which is a bit of a car crash, to be honest. He has had a gambling problem, which has lead to money issues, loss of their house, problems at work and tensions in his marriage. He believes things might be picking up, but a series of unfortunate events threaten to upset his tentative steps back towards tranquility, leaving the reader eager to find out if he can claw his way back to a level plain, or if he will slide back down to the bottom. In fact, the story is a bit like watching the I’m A Celebrity… Cyclone Challenge applied to the life of a fictional character, and it is just as entertaining.

James is a rogue, there are no two ways about it, and he admits it himself throughout the book. He frequently wonders why his saintly wife, Imani, puts up with him and is scheming and working to hang onto her. However, having spent the duration of this novel with James, I can see why Imani is attracted to him. He is sharp, quick-witted, charming and, above all else, he is devoted to her and their son. I was a little bit in love with him myself by the end of the novel. The author also provides us with a raft of other diverse, entertaining but not always likeable characters to interact with James and make his life difficult. They are all cleverly and believable drawn, provoking a variety of visceral reactions in the reader, and the dynamics between them make for entertaining and hilarious reading. Despite the fact this book takes place over a short time period – only three of four days – and mostly within the confines of a single house, the plot never loses momentum and kept me gripped from start to finish. This is one of those books that does small, domestic drama to great and comedic effect.

If I had one complaint of this book, the references to things that had happened to James and his family before the book starts made me feel like I was reading a sequel to some prior tome that I hadn’t read. I felt like I needed a little more information, rather than trying to infer the details from the meagre inferences in the text. This was a small complaint, but it did niggle and probably reduced this from a five star to four star read for me. However, that is still a pretty good result, and I would not hesitate to recommend this book to anyone looking for something a bit different. Something fun and fresh and sharp. A pleasure.

Fake is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Roz Kay is a writer and former journalist. Her debut children’s novel, The Keeper of the Stones, was published in March 2020 by Hayloft Publishing and she’s had literary short stories published under the name Roz DeKett. Roz, who now lives in Wiltshire, England, has lived in Ghana, Canada, Malaysia, Brunei, and the United States—including nearly six years in Philadelphia where Fake is set. Fake is her debut novel for adults. 

Connect with Roz:

Website: https://rozdekett.com/

Facebook: Roz Kay Writer

Twitter: @_RozKay

Instagram: @_rozkay

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Desert Island Books: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Desert Island Books

Following on from my earlier post, I now have my twelfth and final, personal Desert Island Book. If I am ever pressed to nominate my favourite book of all time, this is my choice. The book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years.

But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand. A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

Why do I love this book so much? Oh, for so many reasons. Firstly, its protagonist is one of my two favourite heroines in English Literature (the other, in case you are wondering, is Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing) and the one to whom I most closely relate. In fact, if those who know me had to pick out a character from literature that I most resemble, it would be Flora Poste. Flora hates messes, as I do, and she loves to organise people, as I do. Bossy, you say? I don’t think so, just sure in her own rightness, and there is nothing wrong with that! Sadly, I don’t think I am as chic, crafty or quick-witted as Flora turns out to be in this book, but one can dream.

Secondly, the cast of characters in this book are perfectly drawn, and every one is delightful, in their own peculiar way. Morose cousin Judith, over-sexed Seth, faux-hippy Elfine, fire-and-brimstone preacher Amos, Flora’s sensible friend Mrs Smiling who collects brassieres as a hobby, fecund maid Miriam; every one of them is pitch-perfect. Best of all is Aunt Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed when she was a tiny tot, and has used the trauma as an excuse to rule the family with an iron fist ever since. After all, ‘there have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm,’ and nothing can ever be allowed to change that, especially not Robert Poste’s child. The standoff between young but wily Flora and stubborn Great Aunt Ada is one of the greatest battle of wills ever written, and it is a joy to read.

The book is just beautifully pitched and executed in every single respect. Apart from the characterisations, the pastiche of romantic but doom-laden writing of other authors of the time is a wicked delight to read – I defy you to read her deliberately purple prose and not giggle – and the way she leaves some of the biggest mysteries of the book unanswered, to be speculated over and debated down the years, is just brilliant. There are a million tiny and subtle comments, asides, observations and conversations to delight over. The part where Flora is explaining the process and merits of the use of birth control to the randy serving girl, who then repeats it to her mother, is a perfect example, and one of my favourites. Over and above all else, this book is hilarious, sharply witty and oh-so-clever. I delight in every reading anew, and this is why it would accompany me to my desert island. It is a book that never fails to cheer my soul.

I am a person who does not often watch TV or movie adaptations of my favourite books, because I have too often been disappointed. I haven’t watched recent adaptations of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for this reason. This being said, the version of Cold Comfort Farm starring Kate Beckinsale as Flora, Joanna Lumley as Mrs Smiling and Rufus Sewell as Seth is absolutely brilliant. It really portrays the story and the characters exactly as I imagine them, and it maybe the only adaptation of one of my favourite books that I love as much as the novel itself, so if you don’t have time to read it, maybe give it a watch instead. I am sure you will end up loving it as much as I do.

Cold Comfort Farm is available to buy in all formats here.

About the Authors

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Stella Gibbons is best known for her comic masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm. A witty parody of the pastoral fiction written by authors such as D H Lawrence, Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, it won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse Anglais in 1933 and established her literary reputation. Gibbons also wrote 22 other novels, including Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm (1940) and Starlight (1967), as well as three volumes of short stories and four poetry collections. She died in 1989, aged 87.

Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

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A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this review, I finished the book weeks ago. I’m not sure why, I think I’ve been worried that I can’t do justice to how I feel about More Than A Woman within the confines of a blog post. I’d actually like to read it again and try and distill my thoughts a bit more but there isn’t time so I’m going in, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s harder to write a review of a book you loved passionately than it is a book you felt lukewarm about.

Caitlin’s previous book, How To Be A Woman, made me snort a copious quantity of hot tea down my nose on a crowded train back in 2011, which was both painful and embarrassing, so I approached this book with some caution. More Than A Woman has the same mixture of humour, brutal honesty, searing insight and pathos as the last one, but this time Caitlin has grown up, hit middle age and is sharing that experience with us, no holds barred and, just like last time, I recognised so much of my own life and experience between the pages.

Caitlin and I are of an age so, although much of our life experiences have been very different, the basic building blocks of being a forty-something woman in modern Britain are universal. Relationships, children, body issues, emotions – they work pretty much the same for all of us, and acknowledging this is a fundamental way of allowing us to empathise with and support our fellow women, and this is one of the great joys of this book. It’s like having a slightly drunken chat with your best mate, the one where you have imbibed just enough to bring down any nicety barriers, the woman is someone you have known so long that she is privy to all your embarrassing secrets and you can just lay it all out on the table for dissection. Catharsis for when you are struggling.

That’s what this book is. Catharsis. A sharing of pain and problems so that you don’t feel so alone, or abnormal, in the things that bother you from day to day. Caitlin is painfully blunt, she doesn’t hold back on telling it like it is, warts and all, and it is a beautiful thing to read. Every worry you ever had about your life is set out here and she shouts, ‘Look, me too, this is normal, YOU are normal!’ It is so comforting. It allows you to laugh at yourself, and put some things into perspective. It’s not the end of the world, we’re all going through it, and survive. Like the last book, she has such a skill in expressing things in a way that just make them hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud in many places. Luckily, I’ve learnt not to read her books in public any more. See, I’m growing and learning too, there are some benefits to ageing.

That’s not to say this book is all fun and jolly japes. She addresses some very serious issues too, the care of ageing parents, struggles with parenting. The chapters dealing with her daughter’s anorexia are heart-wrenching. There were points where I was in tears and my soul was cracking in sympathy with what she was going through, because I can all too clearly imagine how I would feel in that situation. That is the genius of this book, and Caitlin’s writing in particular. It is just so true, all of it, and she is not afraid to put it out there for us all to see. Her writing is really brave and insightful and comforting. I really, really loved this book and will be keeping it on the shelf next to How To Be A Woman, ready to dip into next time I need a friend. Especially important in this year when our real support network of friends have been out of reach in real life much of the time.

This is a book I would like to gift every woman of my age, because I want them all to read it and realise that we have much more in common that we have differences and it is really important for us to be there to support one another. You never know what the next woman is going through, and hiding under the cheerful and competent facade we often plaster on for the rest of the world. Maybe she needs a friend. A pat on the arm. A squeeze of understanding. That simple act can make the difference between surviving and going under. I know I couldn’t get through without the amazing female friends I have, this book is friendship between two shiny covers.

More Than A Woman is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. At one point, she was also Interviewer and Critic of the Year – which is good going for someone who still regularly mistypes ‘the’ as ‘hte’.

Her multi-award winning bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries, and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her two volumes of collected journalism, Moranthology and Moranifesto, were Sunday Times bestsellers.

Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, debuted at Number One, and is currently being adapted as a film. Bloody hell, that’s actually quite impressive.

Connect with Caitlin:

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

Twitter: @caitlinmoran

Instagram: @mscaitlinmoran

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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_