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.

Verdict:

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

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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 🙂

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Blog Tour – The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the blog tour for author Riley Sager’s new book The Last Time I Lied as I had read Final Girls a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it!

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As with Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied is also partly set in a summer camp, which was one of the things that I loved about the first book. Confession: I didn’t realise it was my turn on the tour today so I haven’t written up my review yet so that will follow shortly. However, in the meantime, Riley has kindly answered some questions about favourite summer camp movies for this blog tour.

 

My 5 Favourite Summer Camp Movies by Riley Sager 

Hollywood loves a good summer camp movie. All those dense woods and mist-covered lakes make great backdrops for stories both sweet and scary.

 

The Parent Trap (1961)

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This Walt Disney classic stars Hayley Mills and … Hayley Mills as long-lost twin sisters who meet at summer camp. First, they fight. Then they bond. Then they hatch a plan to switch identities and reunite their parents. It’s all insane, which might be why I love it so much. A 1998 remake starred Lindsay Lohan and … Lindsay Lohan, which is why I prefer the original.

 

Friday the 13th (1980)

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Erm, no thanks!

Let’s be honest—as soon as you hear the words summer camp, you think Camp Crystal Lake, home of that hockey-masked monster Jason Voorhees. With good reason. The original Friday the 13th changed the way the world things of summer camps. After that, it was no longer safe to venture into the woods alone.

 

Addams Family Values (1993)

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While the adult members of the Addams clan are dealing with psychotic bride Debbie Jellinksy (a deliciously bonkers Joan Cusack), Wednesday and Pugsley are sent to Camp Chippewa. While there, a group of mean girls target Wednesday. Big mistake, mean girls. Big mistake.

 

Camp (2003)

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What’s better than nature? Nature and show tunes, of course. Plus a bunch of drama kids bringing all their issues and confusion to the great outdoors. An added bonus: Seeing a young Anna Kendrick belting out Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

 

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

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Have you ever loved a movie so much you want to live there? That’s how I feel about this Wes Anderson charmer about the adolescent romance between a scout camp runaway and the bookish girl who strikes his fancy. Come for the production design, stay for the surprisingly sweet story.

 

Thank you so much to Riley for taking the time to write this post. I’ve even added a few of those films to my own watch list now. And thank you to Ebury Publishing for my copy of the book and to Anne Cater for arranging the tour.

A Lazy Bloggers Mini Reviews – Part 1

I’ve been a little lazy of late when it comes to reviewing books *hangs head in shame*. The real shame is that some of them have been absolute corkers!

To make up for it (but more importantly so I don’t have to spend the next 3 weeks writing up full-length reviews around my actual job) I have decided to do a blast of lots of mini-reviews. Bite-sized reviews; amuse-bouches, if you will.

I will provide a synopsis by way of the publishers’ blurb and then a verdict on what I thought 🙂

So, in no particular order:

downloadIf I Die Before I Wake by Emily by Emily Koch

Summary:

“Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.”

Verdict:

A great device for a book – the narrator is trapped in a body that is paralysed but with a mind that is still very much awake, only he can’t tell anyone this. We, the reader, watch Alex try to piece together the days and hours before his accident and we also watch it dawn on him that perhaps it was more than an unfortunate accident that put him in hospital. Chilling and at times edge-of-your-seat, this is a great thriller. If you like your books dramatic and fast-paced, this may not be for you, however, as it is quite a slow burner. An author to watch out for.

 

35376281Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Summary:

“The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…”

Verdict:

If you like your books twisty and turny then Clare Mackintosh will be right up your street. There were a few “gotcha’s”, one of which I guessed and the others which I didn’t. I bloody love it when I get it wrong as so many of these types of books are easy to predict these days. Fabulous book!

 

download (1)Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Summary:

SOMEONE IS LIVING A LIE… BUT WHO?

Is it Lisa?
Haunted by a tragic past, all Lisa wants is a quiet life with her daughter, Ava. And when she meets a new man, things seem to be falling into place. But Lisa is hiding a secret so momentous it could shatter her entire world…

Is it Ava?
When sixteen-year-old Ava saves a young boy’s life, she becomes a local hero. But never in a million years could she have anticipated the fallout of her actions…

Is it Marilyn?
Marilyn has the perfect life. Her husband, her job, her house—she seems to have it all. But she could never admit to her best friend Lisa the lies she tells herself to get through the day…

One moment will change these three women’s lives forever. And the secrets they’ve been keeping could destroy them all.”

Verdict:

I was a huge fan of Behind Her Eyes, out last year, so it is no exaggeration to say that I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on this book. I was not disappointed, in fact, I loved it! Sarah Pinborough really knows how to keep you guessing, and how to take you to the place you won’t suspect. Highly recommended for fans of the psychological thriller.

More soon… 🙂 

Blog Tour & Review: The Lido by Libby Page

34709995What I Thought:

What a joy of a book this is. A book with many themes and all so impactful that after only a few chapters I was already googling outdoor swimming in my area, so keen was I to feel that first icy bite.

Kate is 26 and living a life of loneliness in Brixton, having moved there for work and knowing nobody. She exists on ready meals and spends her evenings alone in her bedroom. Also in Brixton, is 86 year old Rosemary who has lived there all her life. Rosemary has lead a wonderful life, married to the love of her life, George, for over 60 years until his recent passing. Her time is spent swimming in the Lido and occasional tea and cake with friends. That is until the Lido is threatened with closure and Kate and Rosemary find their paths crossing, leading to a friendship that neither of them saw coming.

Kate and Rosemary are both fantastically well-fleshed out characters. Loneliness is a big theme in The Lido as both women are lonely in their own ways and this feeling was palpable through the pages. There was a lot about this book that resonated with me: It is certainly true that you can feel lonely in a crowd. I, like Kate, have moved to new areas, only in my case many times. Starting fresh in a new town or city for work is both exciting and daunting and despite making friends easily at work, I found myself on occasion lonely for company and it can be incredibly debilitating. Libby Page manages to create very relatable characters who are easy to empathise with and easy to invest in emotionally.

Verdict:

The Lido is an uplifting, gem of a novel. With an abundance of character who fizz off the pages and a plight and a goal to root for, I enjoyed every second of this book. Be prepared to laugh and to cry (i.e. big, fat, noisy tears) but to come away feeling uplifted.

My Rosemary:

I was asked to talk about my own Rosemary for this book tour and while there were a few contenders, I chose my late Grandmother, Lily,  whose story and courage I have always admired. Born in 1908, my Grandma left home at 17, to become a Nurse, all against the wishes of her parents who owned shops and later a farm and wanted her to continue in the family business. She wanted to become a Nurse so badly that she lied about her age, telling the college she was 18. Over the years, she rose through the ranks, becoming both a midwife and a District Nurse. She met my Grandad, Harry, in her early 20’s but didn’t marry him until years later as in those days, women had to give up their careers when they got married. Despite being written out of her parents’ will, she stuck to her guns and pursued the career she wanted. I used to love hearing these stories when I was little – she was such an independent woman way ahead of her time and stuck to her principles despite being disinherited (actually, that’s not quite true – her parents left her a tea-towel in their will!). My Grandmother went on to have three children (two in her late 20’s when she finally married my Grandad) and then my Mum when she was almost 40 (very late in those days). She also drove a moped (which she crashed and was in a coma for a while and then got back on again when she was back on her feet). Lily passed away in 1996 but we still talk about her a lot – she was feisty and said what she thought but she was also loving and kind. I’m really proud of telling this story as I think she was truly inspirational. And she would have been straight down to that Lido, waving banners and holding placards!!

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NB/ I was sent a copy of this book in return for an honest review by Orion and I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for this wonderful book. Please do also check out the other reviews that have already been posted and the ones scheduled for the next few days.

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Review: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

33123864What I Thought:

This book had me at “If Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, Patricia Highsmith & Daphne Du Maurier collaborated”. Sold!

It’s 1956 and Alice Shipley has moved with her new husband, John, to the sweltering, claustrophobic heat of Tangier in Morocco for John’s work. Once sociable, Alice becomes almost a recluse as she hides herself away from the crowds in her little apartment. Isolated and friendless, Alice’s self-made little cocoon is about to be blown wide open by the appearance of Lucy Mason, her ex-college roommate from Vermont. It is immediately apparent that all is not well between Alice and Lucy: what starts out as uncomfortable and strained, escalates into something far more toxic.

Narrated alternately by both Alice and Lucy, we begin to learn more about their pasts, their friendship and the incident that drove them apart a year ago. With a definite nod to Single White Female, what ensues is a tale of obsession, manipulation and deception. While not a book that hurtles along, it is certainly still a page-turner with plenty of forward momentum as the desire to discover both what happened on a stormy night in Vermont and what the outcome will be for all as Lucy tightens her net around her prey.

Verdict:

Deliciously twisty and chilling and although some just desserts were served, not everything worked out as I had expected which pleased me as it wasn’t all tied up in a neat, predictable little bow.

This is a remarkable debut: so much so that I would have guessed at a much more seasoned writer had I not known. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and heartily recommend it.

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NB/ I received a copy of this book from Amazon Vine in return for an honest review. It is released in the UK by Little, Brown on 22nd March 2018.

Review: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

9780008196912What I Thought:

Aside from having a cover depicting cake (sold!) I had high hopes for this book anyway, having read (and loved) The Trouble with Goats and Sheep just a year earlier. In the same way that its predecessor did, Three Things About Elsie gently invited me in by way of a character whose story I immediately wanted to know more about, and whose side I walked by until the final page.

Florence, narrator for most of the book, is 84 years old and living in Cherry Tree home for the elderly with her best friend from childhood, Elsie. Flo is losing her memory and finds it hard to remember the simplest things sometimes,  and being part-narrated by two members of staff from Cherry Tree this also helps us to see how overlooked the elderly become, almost to the point of dehumanisation. There are times in the book when I had to pause and think. One example of this is when Flo is asked about another resident, Mrs. Honeyman, and whether she has lost someone: “only who she used to be” replies Flo.

What I didn’t realise this book would also be, was a mystery. A new resident moves into Cherry Tree; someone whom Flo recognises from her past and someone who causes her distress. Having Flo as our protagonist adds a whole extra level to solving the mystery, as she is an unintentionally unreliable narrator. As Flo picks away at the threads of her memory, supported by Elsie and another resident, Jack, we are able to put together pieces of the puzzle, but only at the same time as Flo, meaning that there are questions, doubts and hold-ups along the way.

Verdict:

Poignant, tender, delightful. A book about friendship, hope and about how our lives can touch others in such a small way but ultimately have the biggest impact. A wonderful read.

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Review: Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

A1KeMQs1M0LWhat I thought:

This book started off great guns: I started the book one night before bed “just to see how it is…” and found myself flipping the pages furiously and unwilling to put it down. It was less than halfway through that I then noticed my interest waning and by three quarters I could happily have abandoned it and moved on… but I still liked the idea of the plot and really wanted to see how it would all resolve itself.

Set in a sliding-doors fashion, the first chapter follows Joanna on her night out with friend Laura, from her selfie with a stranger through to unwanted attention from a man that leads to them leaving the club early. Walking back along the canal side, and still upset from her earlier ordeal, Joanna hears quickening footsteps behind her and a split second decision makes her do something that will have long-term consequences for so many. The following chapters are then alternate between reveal (she confesses) and conceal (she runs away).

Such a great idea for a book and one I was looking forward to enormously to see how the consequences of our actions can affect us so utterly. It should have been great. But I got bored: bored of Joanna, whom I found it was difficult to empathise with, bored of the plot which didn’t seem to go anywhere for a huge chunk of the book and bored of waiting to find out how it would all pull together. If in fact, if it had pulled nicely together at the end (by way of a twist or something jaw-dropping) it would quite possibly have redeemed itself but I found the ending to not only be convenient in an attempt to wrap it all up but a bit of a damp squib.

I feel my main issue is that I couldn’t connect with Joanna or any other members of the cast, at all. It wasn’t simply that I didn’t like her; I couldn’t “get” her in either the reveal or conceal stories. That made it difficult to invest in the book overall as I was not engaged.

Verdict:

Not a bad book, just not a great one. I haven’t read Everything But The Truth (McAllister’s first book) yet but I do have a copy and I have heard great things so I wouldn’t be put off reading this at all.

Great concept, not so great execution.