Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness

Blog Tour:

I am thrilled to be part of this blog tour for several reasons:

1) I love nature and animals and birds of all kinds

2) I am passionate about the belief that nature can aid recovery for both physical and mental health issues

3) It brings another spotlight to mental health issues which we need to continue to talk about


41EnXT-ZGQL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_About Bird Therapy:

When Joe Harkness suffered a breakdown in 2013, he tried all the things his doctor recommended: medication helped, counselling was enlightening, and mindfulness grounded him. But nothing came close to nature, particularly birds. How had he never noticed such beauty before? Soon, every avian encounter took him one step closer to accepting who he is.

The positive change in Joe’s wellbeing was so profound that he started a blog to record his experience. Three years later he has become a spokesperson for the benefits of birdwatching, spreading the word everywhere from Radio 4 to Downing Street.

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.


The Book:

Bird Therapy has a forward by Chris Packham, who also shares some of his story (which I was unaware of) and this sets up the book for what is to come. This book resonated with me in so many places and the fact that it is written in an engaging way that reassures is very comforting. He talks to us about birds, how to watch and listen, but more importantly the impact they have on developing mindfulness (sounds, behaviours, mannerisms, relationships) – it forces you to slow down, to block everything else out, to become calm.

In Bird Therapy, Joe Harkness shares his personal story of living with OCD, anxiety, and depression, and how he manages it through nature and birdwatching. Of course, he talks about his illness but this is ultimately an uplifting book with practical advice at the end of each chapter. Also in each chapter, which always starts with a lovely drawing of a bird and a quote, he shares a different glimpse of his birdwatching journey, from setting up his first bird feeders to his experiences of rare bird sightings.

Reading this book was a reminder of how much we still need to push the topic of mental health further up the agenda, and also how far we have come in just the last few years which is certainly very encouraging.



A book for everyone. Important, timely and accessible.

I moved house a year ago and I am now lucky to live in a garden with many trees (silver birch, oak, pine, cherry) and all day long I am treated to birds and squirrels. On a morning, I open my bedroom window and lean out and just listen. Is there a more lovely way to start the day? I think not.

This book is for anyone and well worth a read. Highly recommended.

Please take a look at the other blogs on the tour too:


Bird Therapy BT Poster


Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer

downloadWhat I Thought:

As soon as I heard about Rough Magic I knew I wanted to read it. It is written by Lara Prior-Palmer who won the Mongolian Derby in 2013, aged 19 – the youngest ever winner of this 1000km horseback race across the Steppe. My favourite book of all time is Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, also set in Mongolia, which won the first Man Asian Prize in 2003 and I have never met a SINGLE OTHER PERSON who has read it!

Lara’s style is lyrical and quirky and I had the impression of her in my head as being slightly eccentric. In fact, she does admit that she has been called “away with the fairies” and even “space cadet” by people who have known her.  After reading the book I watched some YouTube video’s with her in it, including a fantastic TED Talk she did, and I found her engaging, funny and delightfully, Englishly eccentric which I found so endearing.

The book charts Lara’s journey (from her rash decision to take part) through to her nonchalant and slightly unprepared start and on to her determination to beat the Texan Devan Horn who Lara decided she had to overtake purely because she didn’t want Devan to win.

A lot of what Lara feels resonates with me: her desire to not be tied down, to be wild and free, much like a Mongolian pony. I have the same restless spirit but mine is tied down by middle-age, a mortgage and a corporate job, only managing to come out occasionally when I take off on a solo 120-mile hike or wonder off the beaten track in a Chinese village. Other than that, I like to live vicariously through books like this that take me to another place and on an adventure.



A great read, and one which I read in a greedy gulp after I was kindly sent a copy by Ebury Press for my honest review. Highly recommended for people who like real-life, adventure, off-the-beaten-track reads.

Book Review: Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton

617l7BRFH4L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_The Blurb:

When Esther Thorel, the wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, rescues Sara Kemp from a brothel she thinks she is doing God’s will. Sara is not convinced being a maid is better than being a whore, but the chance to escape her grasping ‘madam’ is too good to refuse.

Inside the Thorels’ tall house in Spitalfields, where the strange cadence of the looms fills the attic, the two women forge an uneasy relationship. The physical intimacies of washing and dressing belie the reality: Sara despises her mistress’s blindness to the hypocrisy of her household, while Esther is too wrapped up in her own secrets to see Sara as anything more than another charitable cause.

It is silk that has Esther so distracted. For years she has painted her own designs, dreaming that one day her husband will weave them into reality. When he laughs at her ambition, she strikes up a relationship with one of the journeyman weavers in her attic who teaches her to weave and unwittingly sets in motion events that will change the fate of the whole Thorel household.


What I Thought:

Firstly, how gorgeous is the title and the cover of this book? It’s so sumptuous I just had to get myself a copy. I’d just read another historical book and was in the mood for more, and this one is a lovely read.

Narrated by two women in turn, Sara and Esther, Blackberry and Wild Rose is set in Spitalfields Market, London in 1768. Sara, newly arrived in London, finds herself forced into prostitution and is eventually rescued by Esther, a pious wife of master silk trader. A slow burner, the book gets into its stride once Sara arrives at Esther’s house to work as a maid. From there on there is secret love and betrayal on both sides.

While there is much to like and admire about this novel, I did find the characters and the plot a little underdeveloped. While I initially liked Sara for her ability to stand up for herself and not be a victim, she quickly plummeted in my estimation as I couldn’t fathom some of the reasons for doing what she did (several times). I never really got to know and understand her motivations so I had nothing I could empathise with. I believe that the book would have been better focused more on Esther and her struggles as a woman to have her art and creativity taken seriously. That alone could have made a great book, but as it was Esther also appeared to have few redeeming qualities.



I enjoyed this book (and believe, me I am not shy of abandoning books at any stage if I get bored) and I’m glad I read it. Being completely honest, it needed more spit and polish for my tastes but as a debut author, Sonia Velton is one to watch and I will certainly read more of her books in the future.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Book Review: “The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper” – Hallie Rubenhold

81ZQ2NrGldLThe Blurb

“Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women.

Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight and gives these women back their stories.”

What I thought:

I cannot tell you how much I loved this book! Finally a voice for the women who became the victims of Jack The Ripper. While Jack has become the hero of this story over the century and a half since the Whitechapel murders, Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Kate and Mary Jane can now tell their own stories, and they are ones that will make you weep with pity and frustration.

Mothers, wives, daughters, friends, all these women had, at some point, a family that loved them, some were educated, all suffered at the hands of an unjust and cruel society that failed them over and over again. What Hallie Rubenhold has done with this book, is not only tell a fascinating tale of women’s lives in Victorian times, but she has bestowed some dignity upon them, finally.


Read this! I implore you! Never sentimental, always empathetic, this is a non-fiction book that is as gripping and page-turning as any fiction novel. It’s important and timely but also just a damn good read. Cannot recommend highly enough! I suffered from a huge book hangover after reading The Five and I am still thinking about them now.



Her Majesty Saffy approved heartily!



Review: The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

71Q4ZW2zDpLWhat I Thought:

What a great premise: an old house in a bleak and windswept dale, with the middle taken out because it’s haunted! On the back of the fantastic These Dividing Walls comes another blinder from new author Fran Cooper.

Once again this is a character-driven book rather than plot-driven, and by character, I include the weather, the dales, Yorkshire itself. Londoners Jay and Simon decide to buy an old and rundown house in the middle of nowhere to get away from the rat-race. While at once enamoured with the rugged beauty and solitude of their new home, what they hadn’t banked on was the hostility of the locals, all of whom seem to have secrets of their own.

The small cast of characters all add something to the tale and the narrative is so immersive and emotive that I found it easy to empathise with all of them in some way, even the not-so-savoury characters. Despite living in Yorkshire myself (although not a tiny village in the back end of nowhere like this one) I had never really appreciated how someone who has grown up in a place like this and hasn’t been able to get out could view incomers from down south who chose to live there with suspicion and contempt.

Although there are some apparently spooky goings-on, it’s more of an atmospheric tale than a ghost story. I found the prose so impressive and beautiful at times that I wanted to read slowly to savour each sentence.


The perfect book to curl up with on an autumn/winter evening, by fire and candlelight. The Two Houses has turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year. Highly recommended!



The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

isbn9781473638976What I thought:

Once in a while a book comes along that etches into your heart. This is one of those books. I’m not sure there is anything that I can say that will do justice to this piece of gorgeousness but I’ll give it a damn good go.

Firstly, that cover! *imagine a million heart-eye emojis* Whoever says not to judge a book by its cover is wrong. I frequently pick books up because I love the cover (and often overlook those I don’t like). I love the colours and how it perfectly captures the two different worlds inhabited by the characters of The Sealwoman’s Gift.

This book was a joy from beginning to end. I found it to be a really moving tale of love, heartbreak, loss and endurance.

Iceland in 1627 and the inhabitants of a small island just off the main coast live a simple but harsh life, but a life that is nonetheless filled with family and friendships and the telling of folktales. One day, their little island is raided by Barbary pirates and hundreds of men, women and children are ripped from their homes and forced aboard a ship to be taken to a strange and hot land where they are kept as slaves. Farfetched, you may be forgiven for thinking, but this is actually based on a true story. The island Pastor, Olafur Egilsson, and his wife and children actually existed and much of the story is based on a diary that was found to have been written during the time of these events.

I love books based on true stories, especially little known historical ones. Sally Magnusson has clearly done a huge amount of research for this book and her passion for the stories of the people involved and in bringing them back to life was clear to see on every page. What I particularly love is that, despite the diaries that were found being written by the Pastor, it is Asta, his wife who is given a voice in this book. Litte is known of what happened to most of those who were taken once they reached North Africa, however some stories have survived, as remarkably a small number made it back to Iceland many years later. Women have largely been ignored or forgotten about through the passage of time, but Asta is brought back to life by Magnusson who has created a fully-fleshed character who is both feisty and humorous.

The descriptions of the land, the people, the folk tales were all so well crafted, whether it was a bleak and windswept Iceland or a vibrant and chaotic Algiers. It was quite often a surprise when I looked up from the book and realsied I was still in my own front room.


Beautiful, tender, shocking. This book really is all the feels. I absolutely loved it.


large_ITV_Book_Club_imageTen seconds of fame:

I was contacted by the production team to review The Sealwoman’s Gift for Zoe Ball’s Book Club so of course, I jumped at the chance to gush about my favourite book of the year so far.

Just in case you missed it, here it is again 🙂


Blog Tour – An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

That title! That cover! As a lover of crime and psychological thrillers, could anything possibly scream “READ ME!” any louder? So when I was invited to take part in the blog tour for this book, I jumped at the chance.

91Qq+Y4xssLWhat I thought:

An exclusive hotel in a picturesque and secluded part of the Catskills in the middle of winter in the snow. A small group of guests, who have never met each other before, arrive for a weekend of luxury, forgoing mobile networks and WiFi in order to relax and recharge their batteries. What could be more perfect they think. Until an ice storm hits and the electricity goes down, that is, and the body of one of the guests is found at the bottom of the grand staircase…

I love a good locked-room mystery, and the blurb for this book sounded very Christie-esque which gave huge appeal  (indeed there is even a nod to the author herself, as one guest finds a Christie novel on her bedside table). The remote and cut off location, the group of strangers, many of whom seem to have something to hide, the undercurrent of mistrust and the body count mounting up… what could be more perfect?

If I was to have a slight gripe, it would be that there wasn’t quite enough tension for me. Guests are dropping like flies and there is no way out, yet I never really got a sense of pure fear (which I expect I would have felt had I been there in the hotel). Well written though it was, the middle part of the book didn’t entirely live up to the promise of the first part, I felt. The ending though… now that I enjoyed. I love it when I’m blindsided by a reveal and this one did just that. It actually left me with a big smile of satisfaction on my face.


Gripping, page-turning, moreish. This is a pacy thrilled, despite the desolate setting and small cast. A read-in-one-sitting type of book. Enjoy!


Why not head over to the other blogs in this tour and see what they have to say about it too.

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