What I’m Reading

It’s been slightly more than a week this time (my intention is to post these every Monday but I’m not always good at following through on what I intend to do) because I wasn’t doing a lot of reading so on Monday I didn’t have a lot to write. I had a week’s free trial of Disney Plus so that filled a lot of my time last week. I haven’t kept the trial but will probably get it again for a month or two at some point as well I think there’s not a lot I’d watch regularly there are a fair few more films I’d like to see (I had originally signed up for the year and the trial wouldn’t let me change it to monthly).

I read two books in the last ten days or so and I’ve listened to a bit more of The White Tiger audiobook. I’m not sure if I’m going to finish that audiobook or not. I might put it aside for a while and listen to something else.

Both of the books I read I have ARCs of in exchange for a review.

Escape to the French Farmhohuse by Jo Thomas was first up. This is being published in paperback on 7th May and in paperback in August according to Amazon. I was late to a zoom drinks thing because I was two chapters from finishing it and couldn’t put it down! It’s the second or third book by Jo Thomas I’ve read and she is fast becoming one of my go to authors for relaxing escapism. I definitely need to explore her backlist books and see what I’ve missed!

Escape to the French Farmhouse is set on a lavender farm and I could really picture it from the descriptions. I had a squirt of lavender spray while I was reading it to help with the mood. Such a great setting. I really enjoyed it but with all the current social distancing we have at the moment all the French characters double kissing when they met felt uncomfortable (but to be fair I’ve never been a huge fan of hugging and kissing someone every time you meet anyway).

Second up was A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry. I was so happy not to have to wait until this is published at the end of May to read it. I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve read by Veronica Henry but I really love her Beach Hut books and this didn’t disappoint. In fact I think it might be my favourite of hers.

This was the perfect mix of substance, a few surprises, and a chance to forget about the outside world. Something that’s really needed at the moment! I particularly liked the fact that sometimes what I thought would happen didn’t. It made me dream of the seaside and hope I can get to the coast one day this summer.

One day I hope Veronica Henry writes another Beach Hut book revisiting all the various characters from the different books (they are same setting, different characters books) because I’ve loved them all. And Robyn and Jake from A Wedding at the Beach Hut would be my number one for a revisit!

What I’m Reading

I feel like I’m suddenly reading with more regularity than I’ve been for a while. It might be the lockdown, it might just be the fact I’ve been getting the garden for at least a few minutes everyday and I usually take my book with me. Anyway I thought it would be nice to post an entry once a week or so with mini reviews of what I’ve been reading. There’s quite a lot here because it’s covering several weeks.

While I Was Sleeping by Dani Atkins

This sat on my shelf for years waiting for the right time to read it. I got my carer to reach it down and she commented that she’d read it and loved it. Pretty much straight away I was hooked and wondering why I’d not read it sooner. I read it in two massive chunks over a few days and was really invested, thinking it was a brilliant book. And it is a brilliant book. But then I got to the end and I was left thinking “what the hell was that?” and it didn’t ruin the whole book but I was disappointed.

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

It’s only April (and it was probably still March when I read this) but Dear Mrs Bird is seriously in the running for my book of 2020.

This is another book that’s sat on my shelf for a while. I’d heard a lot of hype around Dear Mrs Bird and to be honest I tend to find hype a bit off putting as so often a perfectly good book is disappointing because it’s been overhyped. But this definitely lived up to it’s hype.

It’s an interesting book (set in the Second World War which is one of my favourite periods for historical fiction) and it has a premise I haven’t seen before and lovely feel to it. It’s just brilliant. I saw on the about the author bit that AJ Pearce is writing a sequel so I immediately looked on Amazon but sadly it’s not available yet.

The Telephone Box Library by Rachael Lucas

This was a fun read. I started it before having to isolate and picked it up and put it down a few times because I wasn’t reading much. But it was a fun, escapist read and I enjoyed it just like I’ve enjoyed the other books I’ve read from Rachael Lucas.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

One of my 40 before 40 goals is to read more of the books on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. So when I heard that David Copperfield was available to listen to for free on Alexa in March I dove right in. At 36 (and a half) hours long it was the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to and rather a challenge both in terms of length and content. I’d probably have been better to read it but it was interesting and I’m glad I did it. It’s my second Dickens book in a relatively short period of time (I read Great Expectations in October last year) so I think I’ll be taking a break from his works for a while.

The Secret Seaside Escape by Heidi Swain

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley, it’s being published on 16th April 2020. This is another funny, summery triumph from Heidi Swain, possibly her best so far. She takes us to a new setting, the seaside at Wynmouth, this time and I’m really hoping it’s one she revisits. I loved the characters and the storyline and didn’t want it to end. There were several touching and/or funny moments and more than a few surprises. I was also really pleased to see the mix of characters in it, including one with a disability.

The Cornish Cream Tea Bus by Cressida McLaughlin

Thanks to NetGalley I received a free copy of The Cornish Cream Tea Bus by Cressida McLaughlin in exchange for an honest review. The Cornish Cream Tea Bus was originally released as four separate parts in ebook but it is being published as a complete novel (in paperback and ebook) today.

Here is the blurb:
Baking fanatic, Charlie Quilter, is surprised when her late uncle bequeaths his vintage bus to her in his will. Keen to give the bus a new lease of life, Charlie thinks it will be the perfect mobile café for afternoon tea, and when her friend, Juliette, suggests Charlie comes to stay with her in the picturesque Cornish village of Porthgolow, she’s thrilled at the chance of a new start.
Charlie and her cute dog, Marmite, make new friends wherever their bus stops – except for the sexy but reclusive owner of the posh spa up on the hill, Daniel Harper, who isn’t very pleased that her bus is parked outside his lovely hotel.
Has Charlie’s Cornish dream developed a soggy bottom? Or can she convince Daniel that her bus could be the start of something wonderful for the little village – and for them?

The Cornish Cream Tea Bus was a perfect read for lazy summer days when you’re tired but want to feel you’ve done something. I liked that it was divided into four distinct sections but equally was very glad I was reading them all at once (I have a love hate relationship with the current trend for books in instalments). Some books that are originally published in parts have a lot of recap of previous events, change of setting or time skips at the beginning of each part which can jar when reading the whole book but The Cornish Cream Tea Bus worked really well with a story that just kept moving. I don’t think I would have realised it wasn’t originally one book if I hadn’t already known.

I was mostly sitting in the garden reading this. And I kept hoping my neighbours couldn’t see or hear me because I was literally giggling at funny moments throughout the book. There was a wide cast of characters, different personalities and ages etc. I had some definite favourites by the end of the book who I was sorry to say goodbye to. Porthgolow and The Cornish Cream Tea Bus were brilliant settings and if Cressida McLaughlin were to write a sequel I would be sure to read it.

Living My Best Li(f)e by Claire Frost

I received a free copy of Living My Best Li(f)e by Claire Frost in exchange for this review. It was published in ebook earlier this week and is out in paperback in September.

Here is the synopsis:

Recently dumped by her boyfriend of ten years, Bell is struggling to move on with her life – and surrender the fleecy pyjamas she’s been living in since January. Haunted by #blessed on social media, she can’t help but compare her life to those she follows online, wondering where she is going wrong . . .

In the world of social media, Millie is the successful online influencer @mi_bestlife. But in real life she’s just a regular single mum trying to make ends meet, while fending off the younger competition and tenacious internet trolls. Her Instagram feed is far more #BestLie than #BestLife, and soon Millie begins to wish her life was more like her filters.

It isn’t until Bell and Millie’s paths cross that they begin to realise what they’re both missing. Can Millie prove to Bell that life online isn’t always what it appears to be? And in return, can Millie learn that she needs to start living for the moment and not for the likes? 

Overall I enjoyed Living my Best Li(f)e. I did find it slow at the beginning and hard to get in to. But it sounded so interesting so I kept thinking “I’ll read a little more” and I was glad I did because I ended up getting quite into it and enjoying the book. I will admit it turned out to be a very different story to what I had expected from the blurb but sometimes that’s a good thing!

It’s a great escapist read for the summer and I loved the fact we got to see both Bell and Millie’s point of view in different chapters. There were a lot of moments that made me smile and laugh and quite a few relatable ones – particularly when Millie goes to an influencer/blogger event early in the book.

Critical by Dr Matt Morgan

I’ve been feeling the need to expand my reading horizons lately so I read Critical: Science and stories from the brink of human life by Dr Matt Morgan. I received a review copy via NetGalley. Here is the synopsis:

Being critically ill means one or more of your vital organs have failed – this could be your lungs, your heart, your kidneys, gut or even your brain. Starting with the first recognised case in which a little girl was saved by intensive care in 1952 in Copenhagen, Matt writes brilliantly about the fascinating history, practices and technology in this newest of all the major medical specialties. Matt guides us around the ICU by guiding us around the body and the different organs, and in this way, we learn not only the stories of many of the patients he’s treated over the years, but also about the various functions different parts of the body.  

He draws on his time spent with real patients, on the brink of death, and explains how he and his colleagues fight against the odds to help them live. Happily many of his cases have happy endings, but Matt also writes movingly about those cases which will always remain with him – the cases where the mysteries of the body proved too hard to solve, or diagnoses came too late or made no difference to the outcome.

OK, so perhaps my describing reading Critical as expanding my reading horizons is a bit of a stretch given that I do enjoy memoirs and particularly medical memoirs but it is different to everything I’ve been reading over the last few months.

Critical was a really interesting read. I had expected more of a standard medical memoir – lots of patient stories and a fair amount about Matt Morgan as a person. Instead we a bit about Matt, some patient stories and a lot of technical information that was well written and easy to follow as a layperson.

I found myself really enjoying the technical bits, especially the history related ones. I was fascinated by the story of Vivi, the little girl in Copenhagen who the first intensive care unit was created for. Reading about the how and whys of the workings of an ICU was also eyeopening.

There is a good balance between all the different aspects of this book, although it might not be the one for you if your interest in memoirs is just about the people. If, however you like a book you can get your teeth stuck into and that makes you think without being stuffy or overly academic then Critical is definitely worth a look. Although different to what I expected from the genre it’s a welcome edition and the time spent reading it was well spent.

My Lemon Grove Summer by Jo Thomas

My Lemon Grove Summer by Jo Thomas is already out in ebook but is being published in paperback and audio on 11th July 2019. I received a free copy via the publisher/NetGalley to review.

When life hands you lemons … is it ever too late for a second chance?

Zelda’s impulsive nature has got her precisely nowhere up until now. A fresh start in a beautiful hilltop town in Sicily looking for new residents, together with her best friend Lennie, could be just what she needs. And who better to settle down with than the person who knows her best?

But the sun-filled skies and sparkling seas can’t hide the shadow hanging over Citta d’Ora, which means not everyone is pleased to see their arrival. The dreams Zelda and her fellow new residents had of setting up a new life might be slipping away. But a friendship with restauranteur Luca could be about to unlock the possibilities that lie in the local lemon groves. And there’s a wedding on the horizon that might be just what the town needs to turn it around…

Could a summer in Sicily help Zelda learn to trust her instinct and follow her heart?

For me, My Lemon Grove Summer was one of those books that are perfect for a summer day. You go into the garden with a book and a drink and suddenly it’s two hours later and you’ve read much more than the “few pages” your planned to. I read the whole book in big chunks over two days and it was a very fun two days.

I really loved the setting, particularly the lemon groves. I would have loved to go there and especially to try the limoncello. I’ve been on a little bit of a lemon kick the last few days which may or may not have been inspired by this book. But I’ve still never tried limoncello.

There are several secrets in this book which is brilliant. I saw some of them coming and some I didn’t. There were also some unusual and unexpected characters. Sophia was someone I loved but I also thought a couple of the characters could have been developed more as they clearly had more of a story to tell. But that just leaves room for a sequel which would be very welcome!

This book was the right amount of twisty and fun and just plain enjoyable. I’ve got a couple of unread Jo Thomas books on my TBR but if My Lemon Grove Summer is anything to go by they won’t be remaining unread for too much longer.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

I love scifi but rarely read anything in the genre that isn’t a Star Trek novelisation. I’m trying to change that so I was thrilled to get the chance to read and review Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet meets The 100 in this unforgettable debut by a brilliant new voice.

A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

It will take the team twenty-three years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.

I enjoyed Do You Dream of Terra Two? but it was a very different book to what I expected. There were many moments throughout the book when what I thought would happen next wasn’t. It’s not what I’d call a rollercoaster of a book, but it’s definitely one where there’s no point in even trying to guess where it’s going.

Almost a week after finishing reading it I still can’t decide if I liked the way it ended and whether or not I want there to be a sequel (because a part of me really does want to read more of these characters and this universe and another part thinks that might ruin the magic of a brilliant book). I’m worried saying that makes it seem like I didn’t like the book as a whole. I did, I really loved it.

The setting/timeline of this book is a really clever idea. It’s set in London 2012. It’s the London we know – famous landmarks are mentioned and the Olympics are about to happen as it starts. The characters eat Galaxy chocolate and watch University Challenge. But it’s also not the London or the 2012 we know because space travel (and therefore technology) is much more of a thing so it;s all a bit different and just brilliant.

I am really keen to see what Temi Oh writes next.

Happiness for Beginners by Carole Matthews

If I’m honest I am quite behind in reading/reviewing my NetGalley books. I received a free copy of Happiness for Beginners by Carole Mattthews to review. I received it in time to review it around the time the hardback was published a few months ago. The paperback was published a couple of weeks ago and I’m only just reviewing it now (but we’ll pretend that was deliberate!)

Here is the synopsis:

Molly Baker is living her best life.

Thirty-eight years old, she lives on the twenty-five-acre Hope Farm in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by (mostly) four-legged friends and rolling hills. There’s Anthony the anti-social sheep, Tina Turner the alpaca with attitude, and the definitely-not-miniature pig, Teacup.

Molly runs the farm as an alternative school for kids who haven’t thrived in mainstream education. It’s full on, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. So when the well-groomed Shelby Dacre turns up at Hope Farm asking to enrol his son Lucas, Molly isn’t fazed.

But Lucas is distant and soon Molly realises he might be more of a handful than she anticipated. And then there’s the added problem that his dad is distractingly handsome. Molly has her beloved farm to think of – could letting Lucas and Shelby in be a terrible mistake, or the start of something wonderful?

An absolute must-read from the queen of romance Carole Matthews, Molly’s story will make your heart sing.

Molly is the same age as me (almost, I will be 38 in about 6 months) and it felt unusual in a good way to read about a character my own age. So many of the women I read about seem to be either 20 somethings finding themselves or 50 somethings reinventing themselves often after their husband has done a runner. So top marks for that. I actually think Molly’s age is something that makes the plot better – she’s been around the block, she’s settled and happy but throughout the book begins to realise that her version of happy isn’t what everyone else’s is and look for more.

I’m not a particular fan of animals but the ones in Happiness for Beginners made me overlook that dislike. They really added to the story and I loved the personalities they each had and the fun they brought to proceedings.

Happiness for Beginners is full of moments that will make you smile, make you feel for the characters and make you laugh. It’s really realistic and just a lovely read that leaves you feeling good. It’s a while since I’ve read a Carole Matthews book. After reading Happiness for Beginners I’m wondering why that is, because like all of her books it was brilliant. I will definitely be making the time to read more of them!

Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain

I received a free copy of Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain for review via NetGalley. It was a well written, fun book full of Heidi Swain’s trademark charm. Here’s the synopsis

Things haven’t always been straightforward in Poppy’s life but her dreams are finally within her reach.

She’s moving into a cottage in beautiful Nightingale Square, close to the local community garden, where she can indulge her passion for making preserves and pickles. She may not have the best relationship with her family but she is surrounded by loving friends, and feels sure that even her grumpy new neighbour, Jacob, has more to him than his steely exterior belies.

But the unexpected arrival of Poppy’s troubled younger brother soon threatens her new-found happiness and as the garden team works together to win community space of the year, Poppy must decide where her priorities lie and what she is prepared to fight for …

Poppy’s Recipe for Life is the second of Heidi Swain’s books to be set in Nightingale Square. We revisited characters from the previous book and met some new ones – there was a nice balance between the two. There were also some new settings in the book – one or two of which I wonder if we’ll see again in a future book? I’d love it if that were the case!

Not long after starting this book I was sure I had spotted a really obvious twist and I knew what was going to happen. However I kept reading and it turns out I was completely wrong – part of what I thought was going to happen did but not everything I expected and what I had seen coming was handled differently and turned out completely the opposite to what I thought was obvious. I should have known that a Heidi Swain book wouldn’t contain the boring and predictable!

Although I liked all of the characters, I really liked the character of Ryan, Poppy’s younger brother. He’s late teens and I don’t think I’ve read many books with a character like that so well handled.

As is always the case with a Heidi Swain book, Poppy’s Recipe for Life was really enjoyable and I’d recommend it for anyone who wants some escapist fun reading.

If You Could Go Anywhere by Paige Toon

When I went to the Books and the City Spring Blogger Evening back in February one of the books in my goody bag was If You Could Go Anywhere by Paige Toon. Here’s what the back cover has to say about it:

HOW DO YOU FIND WHERE YOU’RE GOING, IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU’RE FROM . . .

Angie has always wanted to travel. But at twenty-seven, she has barely stepped outside the small mining town where she was born. Instead, she discovers the world through stories told to her by passing travellers, dreaming that one day she’ll see it all for herself.

When her grandmother passes away, leaving Angie with no remaining family, she is ready to start her own adventures. Then she finds a letter revealing the address of the father she never knew, and realises instantly where her journey must begin: Italy.

As Angie sets out to find the truth – about her family, her past and who she really is – will mysterious and reckless Italian Alessandro help guide the way?

I really enjoyed this book. It was one of those where you go sit outside with a book “to read a few pages” and the next thing you know it’s a few hours later and you’ve read half of it. Paige Toon has managed to skillfully handle some tricky subjects as this features dementia, grief and mental health problems. But she’s also done so in a book that makes you enjoy reading it and feel like you’ve escaped from your life for a few hours whilst doing so.

This is a book about travel. I’ve been to Norway (although I couldn’t tell you all the places we went) and those sections were true to my memories of the country. I’ve always wanted to visit Italy (particularly Rome) and reading about the places Angie visits reawakened that wish. If I had one criticism of If You Could Go Anywhere, it would be that Angie doesn’t visit more places as she was so keen to travel at the beginning. But it’s still a brilliant book which doesn’t actually need more travel in it for plot purposes.

I’ve read (and reviewed) several of Paige Toon’s books in the past but I hadn’t read any of them for a few years. Having read If You Could Go Anywhere I’m reminded just how much I enjoy Paige’s writing and I think I’ll be reading a few more of them in the next few months.  Highly recommended for anyone who wants a well written, escapist read that has substance and a few surprises along the way,.