The Once in a Blue Moon Guesthouse by Cressida McLaughlin #bookreview (@CressMcLaughlin) @HarperFiction @HarperCollinsUK

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“Robin Brennan has come home to Campion Bay. Now her parents have retired, she’s set to become the new landlady of The Campion Bay Guesthouse.

Bookings have been as thin as the hand towels, and it doesn’t take long for Robin to realise that the place needs a serious makeover. Perhaps throwing herself into the task will help to heal her sadness at the tragic end to her dreams in London.

As she gives the guesthouse a new lease of life, Robin encounters old friends and new, including old flame Tim, who’d clearly like to reboot their romance. But what about Will, the new arrival at No. 4, who’s rocked up with the cutest dog ever?

Caught up in a flurry of full-English breakfasts and cream teas, Robin’s never sure what, or who, the next check-in will bring.”

I am ashamed it has taken me so long to post this review. I finished this book back at the beginning of July and I meant to do the review straight away, but the summer holidays seem to have got in the way. Still, better late than never, hopefully!

This book is one of the exceptions to my ‘buy no new books in 2017’ rule, as I got it via a bid in the Authors for Grenfell auction, so I have a lovely personally signed copy with a sweet note from Cressida inside as a bookmark. I’m really glad that I haven’t had to wait until 2018 to read this, because it is my favourite Cressida McLaughlin book so far, and I loved the first two!

Early in July, Mini Me had one day off school with a slight cold. I’m not sure what evil mutation of the germ she passed on to me, but the cold somehow evolved into the most horrendous ‘flu and I was forced to take to my bed – which never happens because I normally just refuse to be ill. Along with tissues, flu medication and a hot water bottle, I took this book to bed with me and it was definitely the best medicine. This book is totally absorbing, sweet and uplifting and I raced through it from cover to cover. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again and it has earned a permanent place on my favourites shelf.

I must admit, I am a sucker for a book set by the sea, they transport me to one of my favourite places on the Welsh coast where I spend some of my happiest hours, and this is a particularly lovely example of the genre. I had a very clear picture of Campion Bay in my head and it is the perfect seaside resort, peopled with a lovely bunch of interesting characters. I loved Robin’s ideas for the renovation of the guesthouse and the themed rooms she designs. It reminded me a little of one of my favourite hotels, Crab Manor in Thirsk, North Yorkshire and I wondered where Cressida got her inspiration. (If I ever get to stay at the One in a Blue Moon Guesthouse, I’d book in to Rockpool).

The main character of Robin is impossible not to like, she is so open, generous and passionate but also unsure of herself, a great heroine to root for. The book has romance in the form of the brooding Will who moves in next door, and Robin’s ex-boyfriend Tim, who is suitably shifty as the local slick estate agent. Throw in a feisty best friend, a couple of cute pets, some fun local events and plenty of community spirit and magic starts to happen.

Although this is quintessentially a romance, what I love most about this book are the strong female characters, making things happen for themselves and not waiting for men to make everything okay. We all love to be in love, but it isn’t the answer to every problem and in Cressida’s books, sisters are definitely doing it for themselves, and the hunky men are just the icing on the cake. This is proper modern romance that will warm the cockles of any feminist who also enjoys a feel-good story (which is okay, by the way, you can be a feminist and like to read romance novels too!).

I loved this book. Cressida’s writing is warm and enticing and leaves you with a happy feeling. What more can you ask from a book? I can’t wait for Cressida’s next one because I think her writing is only getting better and better.

The Once in a Blue Moon Guest House is out now and you can purchase a copy here. Cressida McLaughlin’s two new Christmas e-novellas The Canal Boat Cafe Christmas: Port Out and The Canal Boat Cafe Christmas: Starboard Home are out on 1 November and are available for pre-order now.

About the Author

Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David.
Cressy’s favourite things include terrifying ghost stories, lava lamps and romantic heroes, though not necessarily at the same time. She doesn’t (yet) have a dog of her own, but feeds her love vicariously through friends’ pets, and was once chased around a field by a soaking wet, very mischievous Border Collie called Wags.
When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful Norfolk coastline.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan #bookreview (@VaseemKhanUK) @HodderBooks

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“Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.

As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.

And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…”

This is the third book in the Baby Ganesh Agency series by Vaseem Khan, but the first one I have read (I’d like to say it’s because I’m a maverick, but really it’s just because of my self-imposed book-buying moratorium and the fact that I was given this as a birthday gift!). It doesn’t appear to matter that I am reading them out of sequence, this book functions perfectly as a standalone novel, but I will definitely be going back to read the first two.

The central character of the novel is Inspector Chopra, a retired police officer-turned-private detective in Mumbai and the plot follows him as he tries to unravel the mystery of the kidnapping of a famous but wayward Bollywood actor. He is helped, and sometimes amusingly hindered, in his efforts by a colourful cast of supporting characters, including his cute little elephant sidekick, Ganesha, about whom there is more than a whiff of the supernatural – he appears to have attributes not bestowed on your average baby elephant.

This book is a light-hearted detective story, along the lines of Alistair McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series or the Agatha Raisin books by M.C. Beaton and I believe fans of those series would enjoy Vaseem Khan’s work. The main kidnapping plot is fun and frenzied, with enough twists and turns to keep the grey matter occupied, but the main joys of the book are the characters and the fabulous, exotic setting of Mumbai. The author truly does a wonderful job of bringing all the life and flavour of Mumbai alive in this book, and anyone who likes their stories set in an far-flung location, that is really captured as if it were an additional character in the tale, will not be disappointed.

Inspector Chopra is a character who is very easy to warm to, which is important for the central protagonist in a book of this nature – we need to be rooting for the hero. He is honest, unassuming, moral but very pragmatic and a with a healthy dose of impatience for his old colleagues in the police force and their rules and regulations when they get in the way of his pursuing the case – I really liked that about him. His wife, Poppy, I think perhaps was my favourite character. Not the subservient Indian housewife in a supporting role that you might expect to find, but an independent and feisty woman who is a true partner and support to Chopra, a woman after my own heart. I love writers who include strong and equal female characters in their work.

There is a lovely sub-plot in the book involving flamboyant eunuchs, a long-buried secret and Chopra’s ex-policeman colleague in a ‘fish-out-of-water’ situation that had me grinning from ear to ear. Fantastic fun.

This is a sweet, easy and amusing read with characters you will love, and imbued throughout with all the spice and spectacle of India. If you are looking for a book to warm your cockles and cheer you up, you couldn’t do much better.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is out now and you can buy it here.

About the Author

Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a management consultant. It was the most unusual thing he had ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his series of crime novels.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished on a daily basis by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime. Elephants are third on his list of passions, first and second being great literature and cricket, not always in that order.

The Way Back Home by Freya North #bookreview (@freya_north) @HarperCollinsUK

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“One summer, something happened that changed everything forever…

Born and brought up in an artists’ commune in Derbyshire, Oriana Taylor had freedom at her fingertips in a home full of extraordinary people. The Bedwell brothers, Malachy and Jed, shared their childhood and adolescence with Oriana. In the rambling old house and tangled grounds, their dreams and desires could run free.

But too much freedom comes at a price. Something happened the summer they were fifteen. And now, having been gone eighteen years, Oriana is back.

This is their story.”

 

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to get round to reading this book by Freya North. It was published in 2015 and, being a huge fan of Freya since I first read Sally and always buying her books on publication, it has been sitting on my TBR since then. I have read The Turning Point, which was published last year. I am wondering if I have been subconsciously pushing this down my TBR because of some unfavourable reviews it has been given on Goodreads. If so, it was a mistake – this is Freya North at her best. My apologies, Freya: after all the years we’ve spent together, I should have had more faith in you.

This is the story of Oriana, her childhood growing up in an artists’ colony in Derbyshire, her childhood friendship with two brothers, and the tragic event which drove them apart. Anyone expecting a light, sugar-sweet romance, or a psychological thriller with a twist in the tail would undoubtedly be disappointed in this book. It is neither of those things because that is not, and never has been, what Freya’s writing is about.

What this book is, is typical of Freya’s novels. It is a beautiful and honest portrayal of human emotion, human relationships and human failings. It is bittersweet, moving, genuine–and totally engrossing if you let yourself connect with these characters, who are damaged and far from perfect, but totally real and believable. One of the comments I have read was that people could not relate to the characters because they weren’t totally likeable, particularly Oriana. I think that is part of the genius of Freya’s work – making us care about characters who maybe aren’t immediately warm and cuddly and someone that you would want as a best friend, but are totally plausible and, if you give them time and try and see what Freya is showing you about why they are as they are, you will find that connection with their humanity.

This book is a slow burn, and it is an insight into the minds, thoughts and feelings of the three main protagonists. I guess some people may not appreciate this style of story-telling but it is what gives you that insight into, and connection with, their emotional story. I have seen complaints that the ‘twist’ is too obvious and there is no ‘big reveal’. I think that misses the point. I don’t believe Freya ever meant for the novel to be some big build up to a shocking conclusion, that isn’t her stock in trade. In fact, it is refreshing to read something currently that isn’t hingeing on that particular device to sell itself. This book requires a bit more effort, a bit more emotional involvement on the part of the reader to get the most from it.

I recently read a comment by the author Jane Green, in answer to a question she was asked about the best bit of writing advice she had ever been given. Her reply was that the best advice had been given to her by Freya North and it was to get to know her characters and let them tell the story. Freya obviously practices what she preaches as she writes people as well as, if not better, than almost any writer out there. Her characters are always totally three-dimensional and fully developed and, likeable or not, they are completely authentic in everything they do. And I have never known anyone write such honest sex scenes (although my friends took me to task for a long while after I made this comment and they then read the one involving clowns in Pip, but I stand by my assertion. And no, I won’t go into any more detail, you will have to go and buy it and read it yourselves!). You know these people. If you let yourself invest in their story, you will be rewarded with an intense emotional journey that will leave you wanting to know what happens to them but also not wanting the story to end.

I loved this book. It made me cry twice. It made me stay up until 1 am on a weeknight when I had to be up at 6.30 am the next day because I had to know the end. And it made me wish I had not left it so long before I read it. I can’t give a book higher praise than that. Go and read it immediately. Then read The Turning Point, because it’s even better.

Having read Freya’s work from the very beginning, I can see how it has matured as the years have passed, much as she and I have done (we are a similar age) and I cannot wait to see what is coming next.

The Way Back Home is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Freya North gave up a PhD to write her first novel, Sally, in 1991. For four years she turned deaf ears to parents and friends who pleaded with her to ‘get a proper job’. She went on the dole and did a succession of freelance and temping jobs to support her writing days. In 1995, throwing caution to the wind, she sent three chapters and a page of completely fabricated reviews to Jonathan Lloyd, and met with success: five publishers entered a bidding war for her book.

In 1996 Sally was published to great acclaim and Freya was heralded as a fresh voice in fiction. Her following books have all been bestsellers. Her novel Pillow Talk won the 2008 Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Freya’s most recent novel, The Turning Point, was published in June 2015 (HarperCollins).

Freya was born in London but lives in rural Hertfordshire with her family and other animals where she writes from a stable in her back garden.

A passionate reader since childhood, she was originally inspired by Mary Wesley, Rose Tremain and Barbara Trapido to write fiction with strong female leads and original, sometimes eccentric characters. In 2012 she set up and now runs the Hertford Children’s Book Festival. She is also judge for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England’s ‘Rural Living Awards’ and Ambassador for Beating Bowel Cancer.

On The Horns Of A Dilemma

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I was going to start this post by apologising, yet again, for the lack of regular updates. However, I read a post earlier this week by another book blogger on the topic of pointless blogging guilt, so I won’t. This is my blog, which I am writing purely for fun, and I am doing the best I can given all the other current demands on my time and energy, so we will all have to be content with that for now!

Doubtless you will want an update on my progress and I am pleased to report that I have not yet succumbed to temptation and I have not purchased any books so far this year, which is good going. Cora, who blogs over at Tea Party Princess asked me how I am doing it. Sheer force of will and a good dollop of stubbornness (which my family and friends will know I have in abundance), plus giving any place that harbours books a very wide berth. I even sent my step-children into Waterstones the other week to collect my copy of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project , which has been sat there since December waiting to be picked up, because I daren’t go in myself for fear of falling off the wagon.

However, I now find myself on the horns of a dilemma, and would seek guidance from you as to how to reconcile the problem with my current challenge.

Wednesday was my elder daughter’s 12th birthday (Happy Birthday, Mini-Me – please stop growing or I will have to stop calling you that) and she was given a copy of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. My sister, who has read the book, mentioned that it had some adult themes and suggestive passages in it that I may be uncomfortable allowing Mini-Me to read and suggested that I might want to read it first.

So here is my quandry. I have pledged not to buy, beg, borrow or steal any new books in 2017, but only read books that were in my TBR pile on 1 January 2017 and this book does not fall in to that category. I really do not want to fail in this challenge. At the same time, I do not want to allow Mini-Me to read anything unsuitable and I cannot really expect her to wait until next January to read her new book just so I can read it first.

What do I do? Is Caraval suitable for a 12-year-old who is fully conversant with the birds and the bees but not especially worldly for her age? If I read the book now, have I failed in my challenge? If I don’t, and allow Mini-Me to read it, will she be turned off literature, except books about horses, forever? (Although, they can be less than innocent – hello, Jilly Cooper!*) My sister is rather more prudish than I am (sorry, C, but you know it is true, it is one of your most endearing characteristics) so it may be that something she thinks is suggestive, I will think is perfectly acceptable. Maybe I should give it to a third party to read and assess in my stead – any volunteers? Has anyone read this book and can let me know what they think?

Any guidance gratefully accepted. Will I give in and read the book (which I really want to, it sounds great)? Will the challenge be all over? Will Mini-Me read the book and be scarred for life? Will C enter a convent? Tune in next week to find out what happens following this exciting cliffhanger!

*Before anyone calls social services, I have not allowed my daughter to read Riders yet, or any other Jilly Cooper for that matter, although I love her and do have the complete set!

A Snow Garden & Other Stories by Rachel Joyce #bookreview (@R_Joyce_Books) @TransworldBooks

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“In the course of a fortnight at the end of a year; a woman finds a cure for a broken heart where she least expects it; a husband and wife build their son a bicycle and, in the process, deconstruct their happy marriage; freak weather brings the airport to a standstill on Christmas Day; a young woman will change her life by saying one word; a father foolishly promises his sons snow; the most famous young man in the world goes back to his childhood home; and a law-abiding old man discovers guerilla gardening…”

I have to start this review with a humiliating admission – I have not read any of Rachel Joyce’s other work. I know this is awful. I have a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry sat in my TBR pile and for some reason I just have not got round to reading it yet. I intend to rectify this very soon, having read A Snow Garden & Other Stories.

This is a small book containing seven short stories which revolve around peripheral characters that were cut from her other works, but whom she has been unable to let go of completely. She describes them as ‘making a nuisance of themselves’ so she decided to try and quieten them by giving them short stories of their own. I love that idea – the thought  that these characters have a life of their own and won’t settle until their story has been told.

In the foreword to this book, Joyce says, ‘We are at the centre of our own stories. And sometimes it is hard to believe that we are not at the centre of other people’s. But I love the fact that you can brush past a person with your own story, your own life, so big in your mind and at the same time be a simple passer-by in someone else’s. A walk-on part.’ This is the theme that binds these stories together – they intersect almost imperceptibly, but the link is there, cemented by one recurring image throughout the book, so the book feels whole and not discordant despite the seven divergent story lines.

Joyce’s writing is very clever, she brings the various protagonists fully to life skilfully in the brief span provided by the short story form, and she manages to give us a very clear insight into their experiences and characters through a snapshot of a single moment in their lives. The stories are poignant and bittersweet, with an indefinable air of magic and melancholy about them, whilst at the same time as being totally real and relatable, and very, very moving. I was left affected by each story for a long while afterwards. ‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’ and ‘A Snow Garden’ were my particular favourites and resonated deeply with me for personal reasons, and it is testimony to Joyce’s expertise that her writing has managed to connect with her reader in this way in such a short space of time.

I particularly love her use of language, and the way she manages to communicate a very clear image with the use of only a few words. This is a complete contrast to some of the unnecessary verbiage and over-wrought imagery I have seen in a good deal of literary fiction recently, where I sometimes feel figurative language is used for the sake of cleverness rather than clarity. I especially loved her description of ‘...birds sat pegged on the black branches of the trees.‘- can’t you just precisely imagine the scene.

Each of the stories is set in the period between early December and New Year’s Eve and it is the perfect winter book. However, I would not let this put you off picking it up now – it would be a great read at any time. I devoured it in one afternoon, curled in a cosy armchair, but it is one of those books that you continue to think about long after you have closed the final page. I loved this book and would highly recommend it. I look forward to reading Joyce’s other books that I have so sorely and misguidedly neglected until now.

A Snow Garden and Other Stories is out now.

About the Author

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into 34 languages. Rachel Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘Writer of the Year’ 2014.

She is the award-winning writer of over 30 original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4.

Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

A Test of Willpower

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Firstly, apologies to those of you who started following my blog after my initial post for my failure to follow up until now. It was my intention to post at least two book reviews and one other post a week, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. I should have known better than to start a new project in January – otherwise known as silly season for travel agents. I promise to try and do better going forwards.

Anyway, I am currently writing this on my iPad in the Plaza Premium Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 2, waiting to board a flight to Chicago for a 4-night city break in the Windy City with my other half (henceforth to be known as The Irishman).  Following my intention to use this blog as a record of my attempt to buy no new books this year, and use it as a tool to keep me on the straight and narrow, this post is my equivalent of attending an AA meeting for book addicts, as today is my biggest test so far of my willpower.

BECAUSE I LOVE BUYING BOOKS AT AIRPORTS!

And I mean, really, really love it. They might be my favourite place to buy books, and browsing book shops is definitely my favourite way to while away the tedious minutes between check-in and boarding. There are numerous reasons for this:

– all the new titles are here

– I’m going on holiday, so unfettered, guilt-free reading time lays ahead

– buying things for holidays is a necessity, not a treat, so totally justified

but mainly because of

– TRADE PAPERBACKS!!!!!

For those who don’t know what a trade paperback is, they are the over-sized paperback version of new books that are only currently available outside airports in hardback. So, hardback books in a cheaper, paperback version so it’s lighter to carry – what’s not to love about that? I adore a trade paperback.

My favourite author to buy in this format, and most of my complete set of his books are trade paperbacks, is John Grisham. John Grisham is the perfect holiday read. His books are well-written and gripping but not so arduous as to be hard work, because who needs to work hard on holiday? And, as a former lawyer myself, I do love a legal thriller.

But, no new John Grisham for me on this trip. We dashed straight from Security to this lounge,body-swerving all enticing purveyors of papery temptation en route. So far so good, but I fear a long 10 months and several more treacherous trips to airports lay ahead.

For now though, the second half of Claire Macintosh’s ‘I See You’ awaits on my Kindle to keep me company, and 9 hours of unadulterated reading time lays ahead, so it ain’t all bad.

2017 – The Year of Abstinence

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My name is Julie, I’m 44 and I am a book addict.

There, I’ve admitted it. Reading is my passion and I spend a lot of time doing it, and I own far, far too many books. So many in fact, that I am so far behind on my TBR (the number stands at 783 on Goodreads and counting) I fear I will never catch up. Book buying is a compulsion for me, you see. Nothing makes me happier than an hour spent browsing a good bookstore and buying a book. Problem is, I can never stop at just the one….

At the current time, I have 50 books stacked in two piles next to my bed. This pile never gets any smaller and has become such a permanent feature in our house that my 9-year-old daughter has christened it Mount Bookarus. Very apt, since the erosion of this edifice is every bit as slow as the erosion of the Himalayas themselves. In fact, towards the end of last year, it appeared that the pile had in fact been pushed up, due to some kind of literary tectonic event, and the top books of the stack are now in danger of taking my eye out if I turn over in my sleep too close to the edge of the bed.

(A small off-shoot of ‘seasonal reads’ appeared in November as the start of pile three, but these were pushed back during a concerted assault over the festive period.)

Mount Bookarus is the mere tip of the iceberg, however, if you will excuse the mixed geological metaphors. There are many, many, many more unread gems stuffed into every spare bit of space in my library. (I know, I am lucky enough to have a dedicated, proper library in my house. It was the one room I insisted on including when we built our house 11 years ago and it is my favourite. If you stick with me and behave, I will share some photos of it with you here soon and make you all green with envy!)

It is for this reason that I have started this blog. I have vowed that 2017 is the year I will make a proper dent in my TBR and, in order to achieve this goal, I have vowed to buy NO NEW BOOKS in 2017.

That’s right. No new books for a whole year. Nada. Zero. Not one single one.

As a self-professed compulsive book purchaser, this is going to a be a huge challenge. So, to keep me on the straight and narrow, I am making my intention public and am going to report honestly on here as to how I am getting on and I am hoping that my readers, should I be fortunate enough to get any, will hold me accountable.

The rules of the challenge are quite strict. No buying books, no borrowing books, no being given books for free. No downloading e-books, either free or paid for. I am going to allow my friends and family to buy me books as presents for my birthday in May (otherwise, what an earth are they going to get me?) and Christmas. After all, there has to be some relief on the horizon, doesn’t there? But there will be limit of one book per person. And that’s it.

So, 2017 will be a year of reading from the books I already own. I have set my Goodreads reading challenge for 2017 at 100 books, which is achievable, as I tend to read a couple of books a week anyway, depending on length of book and what else is going on in my life. I will be reviewing all the books I read on this blog. There may be other posts that creep in too, about the other minutiae of my life, family, travels and whatever else pops into my head, but it will mainly be book reviews.

I guess it will be a little different from other book blogs, because I will not be reviewing any of the new, hot titles – for this year at least – but maybe this is no bad thing. Different is good, and you may still find some gems in things that are not new. Vintage is in, right? Hopefully my blog will be on trend in that way. Let’s call it literary up-cycling. Dusting the cobwebs off those old but precious novels that are laying unloved and forgotten in the dingy recesses of my TBR, ready to be given new life.

We are 3 weeks in to the year and, so far, I have held firm but it will only get tougher from here. So I am hoping you will help me. Get behind me, support me, and don’t taunt me with all the fabulous new books I am missing out on. (I have already started a list – January 2018 could be an expensive month). Most of all, I hope you will enjoy my reviews, and maybe find something you might want to read, even though it is not shiny and new in the publishing world. First review to come on Monday.

Apologies in advance to my local branch of Waterstones – I fear your profits will take a severe dip this year.