The Dandelion Years by Erica James

dandelion years

Today’s review is for a book chosen for my U3A reading group, The Dandelion Years by Erica James. I’m delighted that, because I’ve given up blog tours and author features for April in my AWOL in April month I’ve actually had time to read the book in advance of the group meeting – I don’t always manage that!

I’m thrilled that I’ll be having lunch with Erica James in the near future at the first ever Deepings Literary Festival that I previously blogged about here.

The Dandelion Years is published by Orion and is available for purchase here.

The Dandelion Years

dandelion years

‘Someone had made a perfect job of creating a place in which to hide a notebook . . . there was no address, only a date: September 1943 . . .’

Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling cottage on the edge of a Suffolk village, it provided a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.

Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to broken and battered books, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a hidden notebook – and realises someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love.

My Review of The Dandelion Years

32 year old Saskia lives with her father and two grand fathers following the death of her mother and grandmothers in  a car crash ten years previously.

Initially I didn’t warm to The Dandelion Years as it felt slightly slow in comparison with other books I’ve read recently, but the more I read, the more I enjoyed it, until I was completely absorbed in the story and really entertained by it.

I laughed aloud at one point when Bill Nighy is mentioned because the reading group for which I was reading The Dandelion Years always tries to find a role for Bill Nighy as one of the characters in a fantasy film version of the book. This time he matched Ralph perfectly.

Indeed, the characters felt warm and human, especially Saskia and Jacob. What I found appealing was the fact that these are not idealised individuals, but flawed and difficult people who do not always behave as they should. This made them feel much more realistic to me. I came away feeling Erica James has an incisive understanding of human nature.

I really enjoyed the literary references and in particular the conceit of a book within a book that the diary presents.  There’s also a smashing sense of place in both Bletchley and Suffolk so that I found the writing quite vivid. I thought the creation of 1940s England, with its war time deprivations, the class divide and sense of making the most of life was well depicted, particularly through the direct speech contained within those parts of the book.

Most of all, however, I found the themes in The Dandelion Years resonated thoroughly for me so that by the end of the story I felt quite emotional. Trust and relationships, and the need to make the most of life, are comprehensively explored, but it was the image of grief I found most affecting after similar experiences in my own life quite recently.

I went from feeling quite indifferent to The Dandelion Years to thoroughly enjoying it and being glad I had read it as it felt mature, well written and accomplished. It left me feeling positive and hopeful and I heartily recommend it.

About Erica James

erica james

With an insatiable appetite for other people’s business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother’s compulsion.

The author of many bestselling novels, including Gardens of Delight, which won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and her Sunday Times top ten bestsellers, Summer At The Lake and The Dandelion Years, Erica now divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy, where she strikes up conversation with unsuspecting Italians.

You can find Erica on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and visit her website.

How To Be A Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan

How to be a grown up

My grateful thanks to Georgina Moore at Headline for a copy of How To Be A Grown Up by Daisy Buchanan in return for an honest review.

How To Be A Grown Up was published by Headline on 6th April 2017 and is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

How To Be A Grown Up

How to be a grown up

Have you ever felt lost, anxious, panicky about adulthood?

Have you ever spent a hungover Sunday crying into a bowl of cereal?

Have you ever scrolled through Instagram and felt nothing but green-eyed jealousy and evil thoughts?

Award-winning journalist, Grazia agony aunt and real-life big sister to five smart, stylish, stunning twenty-something young women, Daisy Buchanan has been there, done that and got the vajazzle.

In How to be a Grown-Up, she dispenses all the emotional and practical advice you need to negotiate a difficult decade. Covering everything from how to become more successful and confident at work, how to feel pride in yourself without needing validation from others, how to turn rivals into mentors, and how to *really* enjoy spending time on your own, this is a warm, kind, funny voice in the dark saying “Honestly don’t worry, you’re doing your best and you’re amazing!”

My Review of How To Be A Grown Up

A handbook for 20-30 somethings to help steer their way through the digital age.

When I first began reading How To Be A Grown Up I have to confess to thinking ‘Oh good grief. More self-indulgent navel gazing!’ and setting it aside in a grumpy fashion. I didn’t like it at all.

And then I thought about it. I’m not a 20-30 something. In fact I was 56 yesterday! But I have been 20-30 (and I did have a university friend who was, like Rosie, allergic to alcohol). So I picked up the book again and had another go. And I got it! I think it was when Daisy revealed she’d stopped thinking of herself as a child in a grown-up’s world as she developed intergenerational friendships that I realised I had to stop reading How To Be A Grown Up as an adult in a child’s world!

How To Be A Grown Up has a lively and intelligent style that conveys an awful lot of good advice. I think that as I’ve never really had an issue with who I am or what people think of me I didn’t really appreciate just how hard it can be for those who do and what Daisy Buchanan does is provide realistic everyday advice for those struggling. I found the real life comments from others that exemplify her points quite touching at times. Although I appreciate that Daisy is a modern feminist, I would have liked some male views as a balance too so that readers could understand the issues are those of humans and not just women.

The topics covered are varied and relevant from money and mental health to masturbation so that there is something for all readers. The practical ‘Daisy Does This‘ sections dotted throughout give an insight into the author as well as good advice and I think there is real wisdom between these pages. I especially liked Daisy’s letter to herself and the chapter How To Make Mistakes.

So, from initially not liking How To Be A Grown Up, I actually really enjoyed it. Maybe it made me confront my own grown-upness when I didn’t really want to believe I was a grown up at all! I may not have any of the issues dealt with in the book, but reading it made me appreciate the positives I have even more. I think those 20-30 somethings will love it!

About Daisy Buchanan

daisy

Daisy is Grazia UK’s resident agony aunt, starting her column Dear Daisy in October 2015 and sharing her wisdom with Grazia‘s 120,000 readers. She has been writing about twenty-something TV favourite Made in Chelsea for four years, with loyal readers following her from Sabotage Times to the Mirror to Bauer’s big 2014 launch The Debrief, racking up over a million page views along the way. Daisy is a frequent fixture in the Guardian‘s ‘most-read’ section, covering everything from trying out masturbation apps to hiring a tutor. She’s a Telegraph Women columnist, and writes regularly for titles including The Daily Mail, Esquire, Glamour, Look, Marie Claire, Stylist, The Pool and The Sunday Times.

Daisy was named in MHCP’s 30 To Watch list in 2015, she won the title Dating Writer of the Year at the 2015 Dating Awards and won the Lifestyle category at the first Words by Women awards. Her internet dating book Meeting Your Match was published in January 2015, and her first book, The Wickedly Unofficial Guide to Made in Chelsea was published as an eBook in Autumn 2013. She’s a regular broadcast contributor, appearing on The Today Show, Woman’s Hour, Last Word, BBC London, 5 Live Breakfast, London Live and This Morning.

You can follow Daisy on Twitter.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett

BLWICS cover (1)

My grateful thanks to Samantha Gale at Harper Impulse for an advanced reader copy of The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square is published today, 7th April 2017, and is available for purchase here.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square

BLWICS cover (1)

When Emma’s boyfriend Daniel pops the question with a ring the size of a small country, she suddenly realises just how different they are. She’s the Eastenders to his Made in Chelsea. She wants a low-key wedding with close friends and family in Uncle Colin’s pub, while Daniel’s mother is expecting a society do that their high-brow guests won’t forget!

How on earth can Emma put together a celebration fit for Lords and Ladies on a shoestring budget? Not to mention the fact her cross-dressing Uncle Barbara wants to be a bridesmaid, her best mate Kelly can’t stand Daniel’s best friend Cressida, and her dad is too proud to accept any help from Daniel’s family towards the costs.

There’s three months to go until the big day. Will Emma’s happy-ever-after end in disaster?

My review of The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square

When poverty stricken Emma gets engaged to rich Daniel, the two families are seemingly from different planets, let alone different parts of London.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square is such an entertaining read. I don’t often read what might be termed chick-lit, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I thought the underlying message that a marriage isn’t the product of an expensive wedding but it based on love, friends and family was delivered perfectly, without preachiness or sentimentality.

Although the narrative revolves around the preparations for the wedding and Emma’s attempts to present a reception that will fool Daniel’s family into thinking she created it deliberately whilst saving as much money as possible, there are other well presented themes too. I liked the concept that we shouldn’t judge others before we know them properly. Uncle Barbara’s desire to wear dresses, Auntie Rose’s wanderings, Dad’s illness, are just some of the aspects that add depth to make The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square a satisfying read.

Humour comes through the differences between the two families and the direct speech enabled me to hear the different characters beautifully well. Although I didn’t warm to Kelly I understood her unhappiness at feeling supplanted in her best friend’s affections and I felt that Lilly Bartlett has created a cast of true-to-life people I really want to hear more about.

The Big Little Wedding at Carlton Square is a feel good read about characters I want to read more about. Great fun.

About Lilly Bartlett

Lily Bartlett

Lilly sprang from the imagination of a romcom author whom you already know and love. Full of the author’s signature humour, Lilly Bartlett’s books are packed with extra-lovable characters, oodles of fun and guaranteed happily-ever-afters.

Can you guess who the real Lilly Bartlett is?

Yes, it’s Michelle Gorman!

About Michele Gorman

michele-photo

Michele writes books with heart and humour, full of best friends, girl power and, of course, love and romance. Call them beach books or summer reads, chick lit or romcom… readers and reviewers call them “feel good”, “relatable” and “thought-provoking”.

She is both a Sunday Times and a USA Today bestselling author, raised in the US and living in London. She is very fond of naps, ice cream and Richard Curtis films but objects to spiders and the word “portion”.

You can find Michele on Instagram and on Facebook . You can follow her on Twitter and visit Michele’s blog and her website.

We’ve Come To Take You Home by Susan Gandar

We've come to take you home

My enormous thanks to Susan Gandar for a copy of We’ve Come to Take You Home in return for an honest review and for waiting almost a year for me to find time to read it! Previously on Linda’s Book Bag Susan told me a little about why she decided to explore difficult themes and concepts in We’ve Come To Take You Home and you can read that post here.

Published by Matador We’ve Come To Take You Home is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

We’ve Come To Take You Home

We've come to take you home

It is April 1916 and thousands of men have left home to fight in the war to end all wars. Jessica Brown’s father is about to be one of these men. A year later, he is still alive, but Jess has to steal to keep her family from starving. And then a telegram arrives – her father has been killed in action.

Four generations later, Sam Foster’s father is admitted to hospital with a suspected brain haemorrhage. A nurse asks if she would like to take her father’s hand. Sam refuses. All she wants is to get out of this place, stuck between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a place with no hope and no future, as quickly as possible.

As Sam’s father’s condition worsens, her dreams become more frequent – and more frightening. She realises that what she is experiencing is not a dream, but someone else’s living nightmare…

My Review of We’ve Come To Take You Home

Two young women, Jess and Sam, live a century apart and yet are joined in ways they can’t possibly imagine.

Although We’ve Come To Take You Home has been sitting on my TBR pile for about a year, I hadn’t had chance to look at it in detail so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. What I found was a time slip novel that had me entranced throughout. I don’t always enjoy this kind of structure but I found the overlaps, Sam’s hallucinatory visions and the echoes of the past all so well written that I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

I really enjoyed the characterisation and although I felt more empathy towards Jess, I thought both women were warm and realistic people whom I cared about.

Susan Gandar has an evocative turn of phrase so that it was easy to visualise the grand house Jess finds herself in, the hospital setting and the horrors of the First World War. I thought history was brought to life highly effectively and vividly so that We’ve Come To Take You Home would definitely appeal to lovers of historical fiction.

However, We’ve Come To Take You Home is so much more than just an historical novel. There are many layers so that there really is something for every reader through the sociological and spiritual elements, the family relationships and our perception of what is true or imagined. I found that not only was I presented with an intriguing plot, but with some challenging concepts that made me question my own views. I’m not especially spiritual but I was very entertained by those aspects in the novel and let’s just say that next time I’m at an airport I shall scrutinise the departure boards very carefully!

We’ve Come To Take You Home is a hugely satisfying read. It made me think, it entertained and educated me and it took me away from the writing I usually read. Ultimately, I found We’ve Come To Take You Home an uplifting read. Great stuff.

About Susan Gandar

Susan Gandar holding book

Susan Gandar is the daughter of John Box, a film production designer who worked on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’, ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘A Man For All Seasons’ and the musical ‘Oliver’.  Her house was always filled with people, usually eccentric, always talented, invariably stroppy, discussing stories and a major chunk of her childhood was spent loitering around on film sets.

Susan worked in television as a script editor and story consultant, and was part of the creative team responsible for setting up Casualty. She became known for going after the more ‘difficult’ stories at the same time successfully racking up viewing figures from 7 to 14 million. Susan went on to develop various projects for both the BBC and the independent sector.

You can find out more about Susan on her website, on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

days without end

My grateful thanks to Niriksha Bharadia at Faber for a copy of Days Without End by Sebastian Barry in return for an honest review.

Days Without End is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.

Days Without End

days without end

‘I am thinking of the days without end of my life…’

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War.

Having fled terrible hardships they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Their lives are further enriched and imperilled when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive.

Moving from the plains of the West to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. Both an intensely poignant story of two men and the lives they are dealt, and a fresh look at some of the most fateful years in America’s past, Days Without End is a novel never to be forgotten.

My Review of Days Without End

Meeting John Cole under a hedge will have an impact on the life of young Thomas McNulty beyond his imaginings.

I am stunned by Days Without End. This is a book that will stay with me as a reader for a very long time and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it. I was completely immersed in the narrative and it felt much more like listening to an authentic voice and natural raconteur than reading. I genuinely forgot that Thomas was simply a character in a book as I became spellbound by his words.

I loved everything about Days Without End. It provided such a vivid picture in my mind of America in the middle 1800s because the quality of writing is so evocative. There’s such variety of sentence structure and innovative style with variable punctuation. The lack of direct speech meant it felt like I was listening to real conversation which appealed to my ear as well as my eye. There’s dry humour so that I laughed aloud and real emotion so that I was close to tears. There’s lyrical presentation of the prosaic, whereas the extraordinary is frequently presented in a matter of fact tone so that the impact is all the more resounding. I adored the imaginative similes and metaphors which lent poetry to harshness. I truly feel Sebastian Barry is a tour de force in writing.

The quality of detail meant that I have a vivid and disurbing understanding of America at the time. The treatment of Native Americans, the civil war, the weather, farming, shanty towns and poverty were all laid out before me in a raw, brutal and affecting read.

However, it is the characterisation that really had a grip on me. The relationship between the giant John Cole and the diminutive Thomas McNulty is just beautifully presented. Their love for one another as friends and lovers is sensitively and realistically portrayed. I could feel the emotion of longing leaping off the page when they were parted. I got to the point where I would have done almost anything to keep them together and had to remind myself I was actually reading a fictional story!

Days Without End is sheer genius. I feel my life has been enhanced by reading it and I won’t ever be the same as a reader again.

About Sebastian Barry

Barry-sebastian

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won, among other awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Costa Book of the Year award, the Irish Book Awards Best Novel, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also had two consecutive novels, A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

The Red Cobra by Rob Sinclair

the red cobra

My grateful thanks to the author, Rob Sinclair, for a copy of The Red Cobra in return for an honest review.

I’m lucky enough to have met Rob Sinclair and he’s lovely so I’m delighted that in my AWOL month of April when I’m avoiding blog tours I actually have had time to read Rob’s latest book The Red Cobra, especially as I also have three more of Rob’s books on my TBR awaiting review. Rob has previously appeared on the blog with a great guest post that you can read here.

The Red Cobra is the first in a new series from Rob and is published today, 4th April 2017, by Bloodhound. The Red Cobra is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Red Cobra

the red cobra

Carl Logan dedicated nearly twenty years of his life to the Joint Intelligence Agency. Now living in a secret location, under the new identify of James Ryker, he wants nothing more than to be left alone, the chance to start a new life away from chaos, violence, destruction and deceit.

It’s not long, however, before Ryker’s short-lived idyll is destroyed when he is tracked down by Peter Winter, his ex-boss at the JIA. Winter brings with him news of the murder of a woman in Spain, Kim Walker, whose fingerprints match those of one of Ryker’s former adversaries who’s been missing presumed dead for years – an infamous female assassin known as the Red Cobra.

A cyberattack at the JIA led to the Red Cobra’s profile being compromised, and Winter believes JIA agents may now be at risk too, Ryker included.

But Ryker knew the elusive Red Cobra better than anyone, and when he sees the grisly pictures of Kim Walker’s corpse, he has news for Winter – she isn’t the assassin at all …

So just who is the mystery dead woman? And where is the real Red Cobra?

My Review of The Red Cobra

James Ryker thinks he just wants to put his past behind him and live a peaceful life. The trouble is, we don’t always get, or know, what we want.

Crikey The Red Cobra opens with an action packed scene and it pretty well doesn’t let up for the rest of the novel. Short chapters with cliffhanger endings add a breathless pace so that The Red Cobra is a really exciting read. I genuinely found it heart-thumpingly exciting and the events even pervaded my dreams at night! There’s quite a bit of violence but Rob Sinclair also knows less is more so he is a master of suggestion as well as description making for an elevated pulse rate in his readers.

Speaking of description, I thought the details given were perfectly balanced so that I had a clear picture of people and places in my head without a single word of unnecessary padding so that I felt totally immersed in the narrative. I truly did exclaim aloud as I read as the imagery felt very visual, almost like watching a film, and I could easily envisage The Red Cobra as an exciting television series.

What I enjoyed so much was that this is not just a police procedural novel. Ryker has a past and he’s certainly not a policeman. There’s a psychological element that I found tightly plotted and intelligently written. There’s action, violence, pace and drama, but there’s relationships and reasoning too. I understood the motivations of the characters and loved the way Rob Sinclair uncovered the details as a drip feed so that I found out aspects at the same time as those in the book. This made me feel I was part of the action.

As I read the last paragraph I felt devastated that I didn’t have the next book in the series to leap into straight away. This is my first Rob Sinclair read, but what a book to begin with. The Red Cobra is exciting, well written and absorbing – definitely a ‘can’t put it down thriller’. I loved it.

About Rob Sinclair

rob-sinclair

Rob is the author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Enemy series of espionage thrillers featuring embattled agent Carl Logan.

His explosive debut, Dance with the Enemy, was published in 2014 and introduced the world to the enigmatic Carl Logan. The second novel in the series, Rise of the Enemy, was released in April 2015, with the third, Hunt for the Enemy, being released in February 2016. The Enemy series has received widespread critical acclaim with many reviewers and readers having likened Rob’s work to authors at the very top of the genre, including Lee Child and Vince Flynn.

Rob’s pulsating psychological thriller Dark Fragments, released by Bloodhound Books in November 2016, has been described as ‘clever’ and ‘chilling’ and an ‘expertly crafted’ story.

Rob began writing in 2009 following a promise to his wife, an avid reader, that he could pen a ‘can’t put down’ thriller. He worked for nearly 13 years for a global accounting firm after graduating from The University of Nottingham in 2002, specialising in forensic fraud investigations at both national and international levels. Rob now writes full time.

Originally from the North East of England, Rob has lived and worked in a number of fast paced cities, including New York, and is now settled in the West Midlands with his wife and young sons.

You can follow Rob on Twitter, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George

Little Breton Bistro

My grateful thanks to Hayley Camis at Little Brown for a copy of The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George in return for an honest review.

The Little Breton Bistro was published by Abacus, an imprint of Little Brown, on 2nd March 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Little Breton Bistro

Little Breton Bistro

Marianne Messman, a housewife, wants to escape her loveless marriage and an uncaring and unfeeling husband of 35 years. Marianne and her husband (army sergeant major Lothar) take a trip to Paris, during which Marianne leaps off the Pont Neuf into the Seine, but she is saved from drowning by a homeless man. Angered by her behaviour, major Lothar takes a coach trip back home to Germany, expecting that a psychologist will escort Marianne home a few days later.

However, Marianne comes across a hand-painted scene of the tiny port of Kerdruc in Brittany, and becomes fixated with the place. Marianne decides to make her way to Kerdruc, and once there meets a host of colourful characters who all gravitate around the small restaurant of Ar Mor (The Sea).

It is this cast of true Bretons who become Marianne’s new family. She finds love and passion with Yann, an artist who becomes her guide to the secrets of Brittany. Before long, Marianne’s husband is back to retrieve her and Marianne feels pulled towards her old life by way of duty and guilt. She leaves Kerdruc and gets as far as Paris before she realises it’s now or never when it comes to building the life she really wants.

My Review of The Little Breton Bistro

When Marianne’s attempts at suicide are thwarted, a whole new life of possibility is revealed to her.

Never having read anything by Nina George and being slightly irritated by the use of the adjective ‘little’ in so many book titles of late I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading The Little Breton Bistro as I thought it would be another lightweight formulaic read. I was completely wrong. If I’m honest, I didn’t really think that the title did justice to the book.

The Little Breton Bistro is an absorbing tale of what it means to live life to the full and not live down to others’ expectations. The marriage between Marianne and Lothar is, I suspect, typical of so many marriages and The Little Breton Bistro actually gives hope and life to those in similar circumstances. It is a salutary tale of making the most of life.

The plotting is extremely good with every character in Kerdruc earning their place in the story and weaving a colourful tapestry of life, love and relationships. I really enjoyed the fact that Marianne and Yann, for example, are in their 60s and presented as warm human beings with real needs, insecurities and desires, rather than the 30 somethings of so many novels.

But it was the overall quality of writing I really enjoyed. There’s a wry humour that balances perfectly the deeper aspects. All the senses are perfectly catered for from the crackle of stockings to the ozone taste of oysters so that the prose sizzles with life. Some of the phrasing was quite beautiful and made me think of Dylan Thomas, especially the descriptions of Kerdruc. I also loved the underlying mythology and art that came through the superstitions of the Breton community so that this is strong storytelling.

The themes that underpin the characterisation are apposite and satisfying. Life threatening illness, dementia, love, bitterness and so on all feature but in a way that doesn’t expect readers to respond like thoughtless puppets. Nina George says what she has to say and leaves the reader to make up their own mind. I found The Little Breton Bistro quite a feminist read in lots of ways.

So, quite differently from expectations, I really enjoyed reading The Little Breton Bistro. I could identify with the characters and themes and having read it felt my life had been enhanced. I highly recommend this uplifting tale of optimism, hope and love.

About Nina George

Nina George

Born in 1973, Nina George is a journalist and the author of numerous bestselling novels, which have been translated into several languages. The Little Paris Bookshop was a phenomenal top five bestseller in Germany and is set to be published around the world. She is married to the writer Jens J. Kramer and lives in Hamburg.

You can follow Nina George on Twitter and visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter

cows

My enormous thanks to Emilie Chambreyon for a copy of The Cows by Dawn O’Porter in return for an honest review and my apologies for declining the blog tour as I try to reduce my TBR in April (you can read more about that attempt here)!

The Cows will be published by Harper Collins on 6th April 2017 and is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

The Cows

cows

COW [n.]
/kaʊ/

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

Tara, Cam and Stella are strangers living their own lives as best they can – though when society’s screaming you should live life one way, it can be hard to like what you see in the mirror.

When an extraordinary event ties invisible bonds of friendship between them, one woman’s catastrophe becomes another’s inspiration, and a life lesson to all.

Sometimes it’s ok not to follow the herd.

The Cows is a powerful novel about three women – judging each other, but also themselves. In all the noise of modern life, they need to find their own voice.

My Review of The Cows

Three very different women, Tara, Cam and Stella, all find life isn’t always under your own control!

The Cows is brilliant. I enjoyed every word. Dawn O’Porter’s writing is vibrant, sassy, sparky, sexy and funny as she explores what it means to be a woman in modern society where men still seem to have the upper hand and modern technology and social media can affect our lives devastatingly.

The plot is very entertaining but also quite disturbing. When Tara behaves in a way I found quite shocking, I thought the responses of the media and social media were even more disturbing because they are so plausible and true to life. There’s a definite suggestion of ‘there but for the grace of God…’ and I think we can all learn a considerable amount about how we present ourselves to society and how we respond to others.

The Cows is a feminist text in many ways, advocating that women can make their own lives, but cleverly, Dawn O’Porter presents men as having their own issues too. Jason and Mark in particular as as used by women as women are used by men. The Cows gives intelligent food for thought whilst it entertains and is actually about people, not just the three women of the narrative. Themes of grief and identity, family and friendship underpin much of the action that I found interesting as they challenged my own perceptions at times.

I am not a great fan of multiple narratives but in The Cows I found the different voices of Cam, Stella and Tara were totally distinct and worked very effectively. I thought it was a clever technique to present Cam more remotely in the third person, given that she is the most willingly public figure. I didn’t like Stella at all and found her actions, whilst the most understandable, the most reprehensible.

I know others have not enjoyed The Cows but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I think the themes are challenging and that some will find the sexual content unacceptable or unpalatable but I think they are missing the point of the book. Dawn O’Porter wants to challenge how we think and I feel she has been highly successful. Let’s just say that I will be scrutinising carefully the person sitting in the same carriage as me next time I take the train!

About Dawn O’Porter

Dawn o

Dawn O’Porter is a broadcaster, novelist and print journalist who lives with her husband Chris, cat Lilu and dog Potato. She has made numerous documentaries about all sorts of things including polygamy, childbirth, geishas, body image, breast cancer and even the movie Dirty Dancing.

Dawn founded Help Refugees in 2015 which is a charity that sends urgent care to refugees across Europe.

Dawn has written for various UK newspapers and magazines including Grazia and Stylist.

You can follow Dawn on Twitter or visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones

Foxes unearthed

My grateful thanks to Alison at Elliott and Thompson for a copy of Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones in return for an honest review.

Published in paperback on 16th March 2017 Foxes Unearthed is available for purchase by following the publisher links here.

I was lucky enough to interview Lucy Jones about Foxes Unearthed before I’d had time to finish reading it and you can see that interview here.

Foxes Unearthed

Foxes unearthed

As one of the largest predators left in Britain, the fox is captivating: a comfortably familiar figure in our country landscapes; an intriguing flash of bright-eyed wildness in our towns.

Yet no other animal attracts such controversy, has provoked more column inches or been so ambiguously woven into our culture over centuries, perceived variously as a beautiful animal, a cunning rogue, a vicious pest and a worthy foe. As well as being the most ubiquitous of wild animals, it is also the least understood.

In Foxes Unearthed Lucy Jones investigates the truth about foxes in a media landscape that often carries complex agendas. Delving into fact, fiction, folklore and her own family history, Lucy travels the length of Britain to find out first-hand why these animals incite such passionate emotions, revealing our rich and complex relationship with one of our most loved – and most vilified – wild animals. This compelling narrative adds much-needed depth to the debate on foxes, asking what our attitudes towards the red fox say about us and, ultimately, about our relationship with the natural world.

My Review of Foxes Unearthed

Foxes Unearthed explores in detail the relationships we humans have with these fascinating creatures.

Let me say at the outset that Foxes Unearthed will not appeal to all readers. I will confess that I didn’t read the book all in one go, but returned to it over a couple of weeks. Those with a particular passion for or interest in foxes will, I think, devour it more rapidly. It is not a cosy celebration of the fox, but rather an erudite essay exploring our perceptions and responses so that it says as much about the human condition as it does about the fox. I thought the passage about the Alconbury incident was an apposite example and I’m not sure I always liked the truth about humanity I was forced to confront reading Foxes Unearthed; it wasn’t always a comfortable experience.

The writing is intricately researched and I appreciated the notes, bibliography and index so that Foxes Unearthed felt like a perfect lesson in presenting material in an accessible form to an audience. I must also just say a word about the chapter illustrations by Tim Oakenfull. They are just stunning.

There was so much to learn about the fox, from its Latin vulpes vulpes through its biblical references to our modern day attitudes. I thought that Lucy Jones presented her material in a very balanced way, often providing thought-provoking examples and comments and making sure the reader has a full picture. So often, as she herself says, attitudes to foxes and their control ‘does depend on who you ask’.

I definitely preferred the passages where Lucy Jones writes more personally and lyrically than factually, but that is personal preference as I’m not a great non-fiction reader. I’m honestly not sure if I enjoyed reading Foxes Unearthed or not but it is most definitely an important book. It made me question my own thought processes, it showed me how to reconsider my own very pro-fox stance and be more authoritative in my opinions and it taught me a very great deal about life in Britain, about foxes and about humans especially. I really recommend reading Foxes Unearthed whatever your usual genre preference.

About Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones is a writer and journalist based in Hampshire, England. She previously worked at NME and The Daily Telegraph. Her writing on culture, science and nature has been published in BBC Earth, BBC Wildlife, the Guardian,TIME, Newsweek and the New Statesman. She runs the Wildlife Daily blog and is the recipient of the Society of Authors’ Roger Deakin Award for Foxes Unearthed.

You can follow Lucy on Twitter and visit her website.