Review – The Cottingley Secret

“Possibility is where all the best stories begin.”

Hazel Gaynor could write flatpack furniture instructions and they would still be utterly enchanting; I honestly cannot find the words to do justice to her ability to make stories come alive. As has been the case with her other novels I’ve read thus far, I didn’t read ‘The Cottingley Secret’, I lived it. Or at least, it certainly felt as though I did. This was absolutely not a novel I could dip in and out of between appointments or on lunch breaks; as soon as I opened the pages I was totally consumed by the characters and their unique journeys. Put simply, if I’d read this while running a bath, my house definitely would have flooded.

My knowledge of the Cottingley fairies was pretty limited before reading this re-telling; like most people, I’d seen the photos at some point but never really known the story behind them. I vaguely remember seeing the film adaptation in the 90’s, but even that memory is quite hazy now (especially as I am reluctantly beginning to accept that the 90’s were 30 years ago and not 10 as I often still think they were). If anything, however, that possibly made this story even more enthralling for me. I first discovered Hazel Gaynor’s novels through ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’, which reimagines the story of a really significant part of North East history and was therefore close to my heart, and also thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Girl who Came Home’ set around the Titanic, an event which we all have some knowledge of, but having limited knowledge of the ‘real’ events made me feel so much more connected to the characters. For once, I had no desire to google every detail and compare this retelling to the story of the ‘real’ fairies because I knew Hazel’s version is the one I want to believe is true.

Having said that, for the few aspects of the story I did google in vain attempts to pacify my own curiosity, even though I knew some parts were products of Hazel’s imagination and arose from the need to advance plots or fill in gaps in the real story, she intertwines fact and fiction so well that it becomes extremely difficult to separate the two. The story of the Cottingley fairies is already a pretty solid base for an exciting and spellbinding story, but Hazel’s imagination is like adding petrol to the low embers of a bonfire and giving the reader an absolute inferno of intrigue and excitement.

It must be difficult enough to tell one story, with the complexities of character depths and managing plot progression, but again Hazel Gaynor has taken that challenge and raised it with another story interweaved through the original so neatly that they’re knitted together like stripes in a jumper. The story of the present-day Olivia embarking on a new adventure despite her heart-breaking personal losses, whilst running the bookshop of all of our dreams, had enough emotion and intrigue to be a standalone contemporary fiction novel, but using this as the lens through which we discover Frances and Elsie’s secrets means we’re gifted with two incredible stories for the price (or three-week library loan in my case) of one. Personally, I found both stories equally gripping as well, something I find quite rare in these novels which flit between past and present; usually I develop a clear preference for one story after a few chapters and find the parallel story an irritating inconvenience but that couldn’t be further from how I felt whilst reading ‘The Cottingley Fairies’.

My ever-sceptical husband did ask me, whilst I was about half way through ‘The Cottingley Secret’ why I was reading a fantasy book when this isn’t usually my genre of choice, and why I was so invested when, quote, ‘they’re obviously not real’ but, in a way, are any books real? Every time we crack the spine of a novel we’re entering someone’s world of fantasy and make-believe. And, the key question with the Cottingley fairies is not whether the photographs were real or faked, but whether you choose to believe.

“There’s magic in every bookshop, Olivia. You just have to bring people to it. The books will take care of the rest.”

Review – Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel

The Seaview had weathered many storms, but she felt this one might be her trickiest yet.

Rain pelting the windows, the toddler finally snoring beneath his cot blankets upstairs, candles flickering on the fireplace – surely nothing could make this moment any more cosy, I hear you say? Wrong. My sense of pure comfort more than doubled as I cracked the spine of ‘Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel’, and checked in to my favourite beachside B&B. Although Glenda Young’s cosy crime series is definitely best enjoyed snuggled up by the fire on a rainy Autumn evening, I found both instalments so atmospheric that I really believe I could have read them in the Maldives (a girl can dream), and still felt the misty sea fret dampening my face and the aroma of fish and chips wafting up from the pages just as strongly.

I’m not usually much of a crime fiction lover, (it can be somewhat of a busman’s holiday for me) but since I always thoroughly enjoy Glenda’s historical sagas, I checked ‘Murder at the Seaview Hotel’ out of the library during a rare few days off work and was hooked straight away. I was so late to this party that I read the first instalment only weeks before ‘Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel’ was released; which worked out great in the end as I got double the intrigue without the impatient waiting period between publications.

With characters as complex and mysterious as the plot, I’m not sure how I became so invested in their stories after only a couple of chapters; but that’s the caveat of Glenda Young’s gripping storytelling; just as I start to have the characters worked out, there’s another intriguing twist which has me suspicious of everyone and second guessing myself. So, my decision to try this series in an effort to fill some spare time on days off quickly spiralled into “surely it will be resolved in the next chapter, just a few more pages before bed” and the inevitable cycle of frustration and the unrelenting need to find out what happens next; more commonly known as ‘the binge read’.

As I’ve said, crime novels can be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, in neither ‘Murder’ or ‘Curtain Call at the Seaview Hotel’ was I able to correctly guess the murderer. In fact, on both occasions I was completely flabbergasted as I’d formulated totally different theories as to where the plot was going to progress; which again is a testament to Glenda’s talent for creating plots which are even richer than Jean’s home made chocolate cakes. Being so well established in the saga genre, it was no doubt a nerve-racking move for Glenda Young to branch out into cosy crime but I’m delighted that she did. Both instalments were equally as gripping, with the second possibly even more so since the characters were, by then, more well established which allowed her to delve further into their personalities and back stories, forcing the reader to question everything we thought we knew about these now familiar faces.

As much as I’m desperate to check into the cosy Seaview to join Helen in her exploits, and of course to pet good old trusty Suki, I don’t know if I could handle the stress. With the amount of plot twists which emerge so subtly I hadn’t even the slightest anticipation before they were hitting me in the face, I can only imagine the anxiety Helen must feel dealing with these every day. Of course, with a location as atmospheric as the Seaview and friends as wonderful as Sally and Jean I can see why Helen soldiers on through it and, even speaking as a vegetarian, I can say with confidence that I would definitely risk a night or two under the same roof as a murderer if it came with the promise of one of Jean’s full English breakfasts…

Farewell, Shipyard Girls!

We all have certain stories, certain characters or worlds which stay with us long after we’ve turned the final page. ‘The Shipyard Girls’ may appear to the objective observer as a typical saga series (a very well-written and addictive one at that), but for me this series marked the start of my first ‘proper’ writing experience; the first time someone other than my immediate family or friends (i.e. someone not morally obliged to) told me that I wasn’t terrible at it. I was a little bit late to the SYG party, but a couple of months after binge reading the first three books on holiday, I found myself between jobs and a bit unsure of the next steps. With a decent stretch of spare time on my hands for the first time in years, I decided to start writing. On the advice of a friend who had had some success, I began by writing about things I enjoyed and so, this saga series which I couldn’t put down seemed a logical place to start. When I received an email from Nancy herself to say she really enjoyed one of my reviews and asked if I’d like to be part of the next blog tour, I couldn’t believe it – a proper, successful author liked something I’d scribbled together on my ancient laptop one rainy afternoon.

I had no idea where my writing journey was going to go, and as evidenced by my completely sporadic and random postings on this blog, I still don’t. But the main constant since I started this page has been regularly scheduled hype about the latest SYG instalments and gentle background encouragement from Nancy. Since joining the club of SYG bloggers and having the privilege of getting to know Nancy, I’ve had three more career changes (I never was able to focus on one thing for too long) and become a parent; none of which has even slightly resembled the life plan I had in mind at the time I started blogging. Which, is what made it especially poignant to be alongside the girls as they all ended this chapter of their journey in preparation for embarking upon their next unique and exciting steps.

“Life, she had learnt, was lacking in certainty, and sometimes it ended up sending you down a different route to the one you had intended or wanted to take. Sometimes…those unexpected turns in life led to something rather special.”

I’ll admit I was nervous to start ‘Three Cheers for The Shipyard Girls’, partly because, as with all of the readers who have loved this series, I didn’t want it to end but also because I was really apprehensive of a potentially rubbish ending spoiling the rest of the series. It’s strange to think that we (as readers) have these particular series and characters that we really love, which are a result of a particular author’s imagination, and yet we seem to have no faith whatsoever in their ability to take the stories where they need to go. I genuinely felt under pressure as I started to read Three Cheers, and was quite fraught about whether Nancy was going to do our girls justice; so I can only imagine the anxiety which the prospect of ending such a well loved series caused her! Of course, as always, she absolutely nailed it.

My prediction for ‘Three Cheers’ had been a final epilogue with a flash forward to the girls with their granddaughters at the 2020 VE day anniversary celebrations (obviously in a perfect universe where coronavirus didn’t exist), mainly so that I would get to find out where life took all of them but actually, the ending Nancy gave us far surpassed this. Really, the ending of ‘Three Cheers’ felt like a beginning, with all of the girls parting ways to embark on the next stage of their lives and all being exactly where they should be; their collective journey having been completed and now fragmenting into individual, enthtalling stories just waiting to be written. The imagination of the reader as to where our girls might end up after they’ve taken these next steps takes their journeys so much further than any author (even Nancy) could. Even as an avid SYG reader myself, I can’t specifically whittle down where I want each of the girls to go in life; so the possibilities being conjured up by the individual readers’ minds are boundless. Just imagine the fan fiction spin-offs we could end up with!

As sad as it is to know that I won’t have any more exciting anticipation of new SYG books, I will certainly be re-reading the previous ones from time to time to catch up with my old friends and reminisce of our adventures; and I don’t mind admitting I’m glad to have finally shed the anxiety of Helen and Dr Parker’s infuriatingly inconsistent ‘will they, won’t they?’ drama. And, it’s comforting to know that we’ve left each of our girls at the exact right place for them to embark on the next passage in their lives (including Miriam – if you know, you know) but, if the day ever does come for an on-screen dramatization then Nancy, you know where to find me. As a Mackem lass who grew up within spitting distance of Tatham Street, I can think of nobody more befitting of a cameo…

Recent Reading Roundup – December

The Girl Who Came Home – Hazel Gaynor


I discovered Hazel Gaynor a while ago and absolutely devoured ‘The Lighthouse Keepers Daughter’, but somehow never got around to reading any of her other work until now. Titanic is one of those events which has been told and re-told so many times, especially in the historical fiction/saga genre that it is hard to make it fresh. However, as with ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’, Hazel Gaynor has a really unique ability to take factual events and sensitively intertwine fictious plots which breathe fresh life and emotion into already familiar stories, rendering them like an entirely new plot to even the most well-read historian. The story of the Addergoole Fourteen is one I’d strangely never come across despite (like everyone) having seen umpteen films, documentaries and novels about Titanic; and again Hazel Gaynor strikes the almost impossible balance between respecting the real-life characters’ personal journeys and adding her own creative flair to fill in the blanks which history has left and enrich their stories for the reader. I will certainly be making my way through more of her back catalogue when time allows!

Suffragette Girl – Margaret Dickinson


Obviously I love historical sagas and all things feminism, so there was no way I could have walked past this when I saw it in my local library. I will admit that I was initially taken aback by the prologue taking place in the 1930’s, and a bit confused as to how it could possibly link to pre-WW1 suffrage, but the plot was so multi-faceted that, before I knew it, I was following the characters into the 1920s and still wanting to know more about where their journey would take me. I did find the pacing a little bit fast for my taste, but this didn’t occur at the expense of any individual character development, I just would’ve enjoyed delving deeper into the shorter term milestones of the characters’ lives rather than skipping to bigger events which take place many years apart. That said, I do think this story had enough layers to it that it could have been a two, or potentially even three, part saga as it has definitely left me wanting more – which I suppose is the mark of any great story!

Skipping Christmas – John Grisham


On the hunt for some more specifically festive reads which don’t include a single woman finding love where she least expects it in a country village over Christmas after having her heart broken in the big city, and as a fan of ‘Christmas with the Kranks’, I was very much looking forward to this. As a footnote to that last point, there’s nothing at all wrong with chick-lit, I love chick-lit, I just don’t personally love Christmas chick-lit. I find good, standalone, Christmas stories quite difficult to find if I’m honest – Dickens really has the market on that one doesn’t he? Anyway, I did the strange and taboo thing of reading the book version after being familiar with the film, but in my defence it was only recently that I was made aware that this story was a book first. I was a little bit disappointed that some scenes and even dialogue were word for word the same as the film version, but then again I complain if “film versions” differ even slightly from books I’ve enjoyed so I suppose there was no winning either way in this scenario. I did however really enjoy the difference in Nora and Luther Krank from the “film version”. If I’m honest, the book makes a little bit more sense and the plot is more believable than the film – Nora in the film never seemed very sold by the whole scheme and I never quite understood why she got on board in the first place, but I found the Kranks’ literary counterparts much more united and a little bit more likeable in that sense; I was really rooting for them to have their Christmas-free holiday whereas in the film I always find the portrayal much closer to the stereotypical “grinch” dad and overly festive, motherly housewife. A testament to why the “book version” is literally always better.

Recent Reading Roundup

Having taken a somewhat unplanned maternity leave from blogging, the pressure around what my first post in about 6 months should be about has felt pretty intense. As with many other difficult periods in life, reading is the only thing which has kept me somewhat sane over the past few months, and mastering the art of holding a paperback in one hand with my napping baby balanced on the opposite arm was a total game-changer. So, having binge-read my way through at least half of my local library’s stock, I started to get a backlog of books I wanted to rave about; but every time I started to get into something approaching a normal routine, my baby would hit another milestone and send everything haywire. If you know, you KNOW. To ease myself and my sleep-deprived brain back into blogging, the easiest thing seemed to be to bullet point the highlights of my recent reads, although being concise is not one of my strongest qualities, as anyone who follows this blog will know; so I will try my best to keep it snappy.

Letters On Motherhood – Giovanna Fletcher. I love everything Giovanna Fletcher does, from her You Tube to her podcast, fiction and non-fiction I devour it all, and two weeks after becoming a mother myself, this seemed like the perfect read. But, if you want my brutally honest opinion? It was lovely to read in the newborn bubble; full of heartfelt and emotive reflections on past moments of motherhood and those yet to come, I was cradling my bundle of joy and planning all the sentimental letters I would write to him about this wonderful time together. However, just after I began this read, my partner went back to work and the reality of colic, reflux, eczema and sleep regression set in. In a nutshell – can be enjoyed by anyone not currently experiencing what my perinatal mental health worker calls “the fog” (sometimes also aptly referred to as “the storm” by other professionals). I’d recommend this whilst in the newborn bubble or once one’s child(ren) are pretty much self sufficient, but whilst riding the storm, to be honest, it’s as fluffy as an NCT course or a Fairy washing powder advert and overly romanticised the utter hell of those early days in the same way the concept of “the blitz spirit” must infuriate anyone who actually lived through that nightmare. Sorry Giovanna! (In her defence, I found “Happy Mum, Happy Baby” much more realistic and relatable).

The Midnight Library and How to Stop Time – Matt Haig. My edgy, former teenage self is reeling that I chose a book based on its currently high level of commercial popularity, but sometimes there is a good reason as to why things are popular. I am not usually one for reading books with abstract or magical elements, they’re often a bit too wishy washy for me, but both of these concepts were too intriguing not to explore. I loved the honest and unfiltered depictions of mental health in ‘The Midnight Library’, and wondering what might have been is such a fundamentally human element of everyone’s psyche that we can all relate to Nora’s journey, but Matt Haig manages to balance out the darker themes with a wonderfully optimistic ending which I’m still reflecting on a couple of months later. I then read ‘How to Stop Time’ off the back of how much I enjoyed The Midnight Library and again was intrigued by the concept. I love a historical fiction novel, obviously, but seeing a character experience so many different contexts within one journey is such a unique way of framing this, and raised the age old question of nature v nurture – who would any of us be if we lived in different time periods and cultures? Are we universally ourselves or products of our environment? Again, it’s been two months and I still don’t know.

The Munitions Girls series – Rosie Archer. Again, we know I love a historical saga, and this was one I hadn’t got round to reading yet, even though I have enjoyed a lot of her standalone novels. I was surprised to learn that this series was only in four parts, since the amount of different characters which Rosie Archer juggles throughout the plots is crazy, and yet is still able to provide enough rich detail to ensure the reader is fully invested in each character’s personal journey. The plot moved very fast, and it’s impressive how far she was able to take each character’s journey in just four installments, but it never felt rushed or skimmed over at any point, nor were any of the more rich or emotive aspects of the plots spared. That must have been a really difficult balance for the author to strike, but I’d absolutely recommend this series for any saga lover wanting a quick and exciting binge without sacrificing the depth of plot, emotive themes and character development.

Christmas with the Bobby Girls – Johanna Bell. I have followed this series since it first came out, but I somehow got waylaid in pursuing it. When my local library received its first copy of this book, of course I was at the top of the waiting list (also the thrill of being the first person to check out a book was one I didn’t know I needed). I do love that this saga seems to shift focus between different primary characters in each installment, so although the overall passage of contextual time in the story isn’t particularly rapid, the reader’s interest is still gripped by the stark differences in the characters’ lives and journeys as they intertwine with one another. I definitely need to read the most recent installment of this saga, and will be doing so as soon as my baby allows me to have more than 1 hour of sleep in a twenty four hour period!

New Year, New Topics – To Tell or Not to Tell?

Ugh. I feel like I start every form of communication with other people with some variation of that noise now. I had planned to finish last year with some Christmas themed blogs and maybe some more book reviews, but between being a key worker and not being able to do anything remotely fun or enjoyable when I wasn’t at work (bloody Covid); I really found myself struggling to think of content which would be even remotely positive. Despite being a huge pessimist in my day-to-day life, I’ve always tried to make blog content positive, because who wants to read a load of negative waffle? We have the news for that. But then again, trying to find positivity in the current climate isn’t always the easiest, and so I let my blog fall into a state of neglect not dissimilar to Cair Paravel at the start of ‘Prince Caspian’ – forgotten for what feels like a thousand years. So, I’m going to try and breathe some new life into this site, and sometimes a change is as good as a rest, so I thought I’d give some new content a try. (Disclaimer, book reviews and all things literary will still continue as normal, I’m reading for another blog tour as we speak, so please don’t run away, little booklings – you can just skip past this crap if it’s not for you!)

Having said all of this, I now look like a total ungrateful so-and-so for saying I was struggling to think of positive things to talk about for three months, because whilst I was writing my last post I received the wonderful news that I’m pregnant! Not literally – I don’t generally blog on the loo. Not least of all because my laptop isn’t insured against water damage, but hopefully you get the point. The idea of a pregnancy blog seemed appealing initially, but then I became quite hesitant because, well, there are already so many of those out there that straying into more than one or two can feel like getting lost in a car dealership – so many technical terms that I don’t understand, everything looks basically the same and someone is always trying to sell me some inexplicable and confusing product which will allegedly change my life. And the further I looked into it, the more it seemed like you have to pick a side when it comes to pregnancy/mummy blogs. Essentially, you’re either a bit crap and proud of it (aka the ‘real’ mums), or you’re a Mary Poppins type who has a storage solution for everything, a perfectly tidy, middle-class home and can turn any household object into a wonderfully educational activity for the whole family (aka the ‘Instagram’ mums). What if we want to be a bit in the middle? Some days I eat in excess of my five a day and manage to save £70 on the must-have breast pump whilst out for a power walk (my proudest moment yet), and other days I eat cookie dough and Doritos instead of my evening meal. I swing between both ‘mummy’ camps, sometimes multiple times in one day, and if that’s not marketable, then that’s fine.

There are a lot of divisive topics in all things pregnancy and baby, so I’m going to try my very hardest not to fall into those controversial rabbit holes, and nor do I profess to be any kind of expert – I’m muddling through with remote midwife appointments and absolutely no face to face antenatal classes, so if anything the ‘class of 2021’ mums are going to be even less prepared than those who ventured before us. But, all I can offer is my own experience, and hopefully it doesn’t offend anyone.

The decision about who and when to tell about a pregnancy is something which I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to. I’m now comfortably into my second trimester and only made the first reference to it on social media yesterday. I thought about keeping my pregnancy off social media entirely, and absolutely see the benefits of that, but ultimately it just felt like the right moment for me to address it, and I didn’t want to be ducking out of photos in months to come when things get a bit harder to hide (we’re still very much in big-jumper weather and just had Christmas, so I don’t think anyone had really questioned my slightly thicker middle yet!). I certainly wasn’t in a hurry to do a big showy announcement; not that there is anything wrong with celebrating your news in that way, but having spent a year feeling horribly bitter and resentful every time I saw yet another beaming couple holding the standard ultrasound photo and thinking ‘for f-‘s sake, they probably weren’t even trying!’ I felt a strange sense of loyalty to my past self and everyone who might still be experiencing those feelings. As if, somehow, by finally getting pregnant after that monthly vicious circle of hoping, allowing myself to wonder and then feeling a crushing disappointment, I’d sold out and abandoned all my previous loyalties, which, is utterly ridiculous.

So conflicted I was by this, that I really didn’t know how or when to tell my friends and family. Of course I told my husband straight away, possibly too soon actually, as he was just parking his van up at work and noticed a barrage of calls from me. He has since admitted that he spent the rest of that day unable to concentrate on anything at all! I actually saw two separate friends that same day and was so worried that I would end up blurting it out by accident; I was convinced that they could tell straight away, but I’ve since been assured that my poker face is better than I previously thought. There is a dominant school of thought that you should wait until after 12 weeks to tell people about a pregnancy, because of risks around miscarriage, which I was quite aware of but wasn’t sure if I could hold out quite that long. But, my husband and I agreed that there was some merit to waiting at least a few weeks “just in case”. I still don’t know what our “just in case” logic was really about, because I now know that there’s no way to really confirm an unborn baby’s health until you have a scan (usually at 12 weeks), but it seemed the sensible thing to do. Unfortunately, as 1 in 4 women sadly know, sometimes not telling people inadvertently makes things harder later down the line, for the exact same reason why many people choose not to tell anyone.

I have absolutely no desire to turn this into a cry for sympathy because, as horrible as that feeling was, I am fortunate enough to now be in my second trimester and in possession of several photos of a blurry, yet very active little baby. I have a lovely group of friends, but one in particular is my ‘in sickness and in health’ or, more accurately, ‘in my worst, most reckless decisions and in my sensible and proud ones’ go-to person. So, having woken up a few days after seeing that little blue + sign (and four other versions of it – we wanted to be properly sure), to what looked like a nose bleed but from an entirely different orifice, I knew there was only one person who could realistically calm me down and say something helpful. Of course I told my husband straight away, but it’s quite difficult for the person who is in that situation with you to really provide reassurance; because they’re just as clueless and panicked as you are. This particular friend is no longer phased by my ‘call me right now, something has happened’ messages, nor is she surprised by their totally random subject matter any more (that’s what eleven years of speaking daily does for a friendship), but having the ‘I think I’m losing the baby you had no idea I was having’ conversation frankly just added a totally unnecessary level of complexity and confusion to an already awful situation. Backtracking to explain when I had found out, and how far along I now was, although this was necessary to provide context, was an aspect of that conversation which anyone would naturally prefer to leave out.

Again, the last thing I want is to make this into a sob-story, because despite an agonising few days, an emergency scan with some absolutely wonderful and supportive NHS staff the following week all but erased this awful chapter from our story. But, I certainly would not have made it through those few days without having another person who was entirely separate to the situation to speak to. I spent the last evening before I was allowed to re-test at her house drinking tea in total silence, but I will never be able to thank her enough for that. My husband made the decision not to tell anyone in his circles about it until after our minds were put at rest, which I completely respect and understand – everyone is different after all and there is no right or wrong way to deal with such an awful situation. However, it would be a lie to say that his decision didn’t take a toll whilst he was in the midst of it.

I’ll never know what my next step would have been if things hadn’t had a happy ending for us; maybe I would never have discussed it with anyone, and my husband, friend and I may have taken it to our graves. Or, I might have told my nearest and dearest when the time was right. As of right now, I’m incredibly lucky that I didn’t have to make that decision this time, but all I would say to anyone in those early ‘to tell or not to tell’ weeks, is that having even just one person who was separate to the situation to share the load and distract me at the necessary moments, was probably the only thing which allowed me to put one foot in front of the other when I needed to walk into that emergency scan.

As a footnote, having just proof-read this post, it definitely reads more negative and doom and gloom than I had intended. I feel the need to again add that I am now well into my second trimester and experiencing a wonderful, healthy pregnancy. My first trimester was, despite this obvious setback, on the whole pretty straightforward and nowhere near as horrible as some people’s are. So I do feel very fortunate for all of this; and to those 1 in 4 women, you all deserve a medal at the very least. As awful as it was to have a scare and those few days of uncertainty, I still had hope in the back of my mind that nothing was certain. For those who aren’t so lucky, you all deserve the world and more, seriously.

https://www.tommys.org/get-involved/campaigns/tell-me-why

Tommys’ ‘Tell Me Why’ campaign has a great deal of support and advice available for anyone affected by pregnancy and baby loss.

Clap for Our Authors

Lockdown really was alright for a few minutes there, wasn’t it? Obviously the looming spectre of a potentially deadly virus hanging over our every move wasn’t (and still isn’t) ideal, but those first few weeks of ‘working from home’ i.e. lazing around in the sun-soaked garden while making a serious dent in my ‘to-read’ pile was ideal. Even my literature-hating husband, delighted at the prospect of three whole weeks on furlough (how naive we were), was happily spending whole afternoons with his nose in a book. But somewhere within that strange, increasingly unsettling cycle of ‘Groundhog Day’, reading, for me anyway, became less of a relaxing indulgence and more of a survival technique.

It’s a truth which is universally acknowledged that the more you do something, the less enjoyment you will ultimately take from it; I cite the great vomiting incident of 2008 as a prime example – when a six hour turbulent plane journey became the first and last time I ever chain-ate Oreos. Anyway, somewhere around mid-May, when I had exhausted all of my flour-free baking recipes and was even starting to find the ‘Tiger King’ memes less and less funny, I became increasingly reliant on books to pass the endless hours; binge reading anything I could get my hands on until I found myself at the bottom of my reading pile and experiencing what can only be described as withdrawals.

With the bookshops closed, I wiped the dust off my Kindle (never an adequate substitute for the real thing, but it always comes through for me in times of crisis) and spent hours trawling through Amazon in desperate search of a story which I could get excited about. Unfortunately, as with clothing and life partners, if you go searching for something with pre-existing standards in mind, you’ll never be able to find the ‘right one’. So, by June I was reading what can only be politely described as ‘any old rubbish’. As has been made abundantly clear by the general content of this blog, the only thing which excites me as much as reading books is writing about books; but, I’m also a firm believer that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all – especially on the already-cruel place that is the Internet. I would never name and shame books that I didn’t enjoy, not least because it’s just not very nice, but also just because one person doesn’t ‘get’ someone’s writing, I find, generally has no bearing on whether anyone else will; so what would the point be in being rude?

Having said that, even when I was in a lockdown-induced rut of reading things that weren’t really exciting me, books remained the perfect escapism. Obviously, us book-nerds knew that already, but in the midst of new film releases being postponed and production of new TV shows or series being halted, books became one of the few joys which hadn’t been cancelled. I may have missed out on travelling for my honeymoon this year (for the second time, thanks Covid AND Thomas Cook), but no pandemic or financial crisis could stop me from flipping through the pages of a book and allowing the author to take me into another world. We’ve clapped for our key workers (rightly so) for keeping us safe, praised (and subsequently cursed) Joe Wicks for making us realise how unfit we all are and praised the TV networks for uploading our favourite throwbacks (yes, I binged ‘My Family’ and ‘Big Brother’s Best Bits’ because I love a bit of nostalgia). But, at no point do we seem to have acknowledged our authors. Books have remained a constant; their releases have still largely gone ahead (albeit without signings), and well-written stories will always continue to be there to take us away from all the horribleness and transport us to somewhere new and exciting. So, to the world’s authors, I just want to say thank you – for continuing to create inspirational characters, thrilling plots and enchanting settings from within your lockdown workspaces, which are always there to whisk us away from the awfulness to somewhere wonderful, with the simple ease of turning a page.

Lockdown Library Part Two – The Flatshare

No, I haven’t left my husband and gone into a flat share, even though the sound of him shouting and swearing at his friends/the game they are playing/the other players/goodness only knows what else from his ‘man cave’ upstairs continues to assualt my ears on a daily basis. I shared flats for three years whilst I was a student, and hated two of those years with a vehement passion; I’m definitely too territorial to live with more than one other person (and even that is a struggle sometimes, especially in lockdown). Where was I? Oh yes, ‘The Flatshare’. This book was recommended to me by a friend with the single promotional line of “it’s totally Georgia-level chick lit!” (for clarity, my friend’s name is Georgia, this isn’t a separate sub-genre of women’s fiction, that I know of). I must confess that I was a bit apprehensive; whilst I fiercely disagree with the notion that ‘chick lit’ entails bad or sub-par writing, Georgia’s taste in chick lit is a little bit more…fluffy…than mine. I like a bit of romance as much as the next person, but I also have a cynical side which just needs a bit more substance to a story to balance out all the unneccessary mushiness (*cough* ‘Fifty Shades’ *cough*). That said, being stuck in the house with literally nothing else to do seemed like the perfect time to roll the dice on a new book – what did I have to lose? But thankfully, Beth O’Leary’s intriguing characters and twisting plot did not leave me disappointed.

“I explicitly told you that the first rule of flatsharing is that you don’t sleep with your flatmate.”

As a northerner, the struggle which London based twenty-somethings have to endure to keep a roof over their heads is somewhat alien to me. However, the overpowering desire to not have to move back in with one’s parents following a difficult break up is a truth which I think is universally acknowledged. So, Tiffy’s decision to accept the unorthodox arrangement of sharing a flat, and even a bed, with a complete stranger to avoid such peril is certainly understandable. And after all, her elusive flatmate Leon works nights and spends every weekend at his girlfriend’s house, so although they sleep in the same bed, they don’t actually sleep together; thus the first and foremost rule of flatsharing remains unbroken, right?

“Come on! You can’t share a bed and not share anything else, if you know what I’m saying.”

Although I started ‘The Flatshare’ thinking that it was going to be a fairly standard romantic story of two people initially failing to realise that their true love was right in front of them all along, this prediction was quickly forgotten as the complex plot began to unravel. The story is told from both Tiffy and Leon’s points of view, which are distinguished through completely different writing styles; to the point where it’s almost difficult to believe that the entire book was written by one person. This cannot have been an easy process for Beth O’Leary to maintain, but it really made me believe that I was inside the minds of both principal characters, and was almost like reading two different books. Both of its lead characters are also perfectly flawed in their own ways, which added masses of depth to their stories as individuals, and even more so to the overall plot as their own stories begin to overlap.

The main thing which really stood out for me in this book is how well Beth O’Leary nailed the telling of Tiffy’s recovery from her previous abusive relationship. It would have been an easy trap to fall into to write Leon as the perfect man who storms into Tiffy’s life in shining armour to pick up the pieces, but she manages to perfectly navigate away from the ‘hero’ and ‘broken damsel’ dichotomy and sensitively represents the frightening and confusing process of healing from emotional abuse which, although can be eased significantly through support from one’s friends, is a journey which ultimately involves the traveller having to fly solo and empower themselves from within.

Sprinkling romance on top of this would have been challenge enough for most authors, but Beth O’Leary went even further and added rich complexities to Leon’s past (and indeed his present), as well as a sub-plot in which he helps a terminally ill World War Two veteran to reunite with his long lost love before he dies, which, I must confess, was the ‘real’ romantic take-home-message of the story for me. Of course the actual romantic ending was lovely as well, but I am a sucker for an understated romantic story which spans across the decades. By the end, there are so many elements to this overall story that it becomes the literary equivalent of baking a carrot cake; tricky to balance all the ingredients in perfect harmony and something which I have never been able to achieve without having to cut a large portion of still-soggy mixture away from the finished result, but I was very pleased to discover that ‘The Flatshare’s complex plot is harmonised to perfection and leaves no loose ends or sogginess (except maybe some moisture in the eyes).

 

Lockdown Library Part One – The Bobby Girls

It’s all gone a bit horrible, really, hasn’t it? I vividly remember saying to a colleague before Christmas how I wished I could have just a few paid weeks off work to relax, joking that I would love maternity leave without the maternity element of it. With hindsight, the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ comes to mind. Being stuck in the house with nothing but time to kill is every writer’s (and reader’s) dream, but every time I’ve thought about putting pen to paper (or fingertips to laptop), I’ve never been too sure what to say. I don’t really know how I feel about it all; that seems to change on an hourly basis, and social media is littered with people being criticised for enjoying lockdown when other people are struggling, and others being criticised for being too negative and not appreciating what they have, so I’ve been too chicken to say anything at all on the subject. So, I cannot profess to be an expert on how best to deal with lockdown, because my strategy of binge watching ‘Call the Midwife’ and ‘Tiger King’ (eclectic taste, I know) and baking endless sugar filled goodies has led only to weight gain and insomnia. The only thing I feel I can offer, is to continue reviewing books which are currently helping me to pass the time, so, in the spirit of ‘keep calm and carry on’, I reasoned that I should continue doing what I do best – getting excited about books.

We all know that I love a good saga, so when the Kindle store recommended ‘The Bobby Girls’ to me, I had high hopes. Hopes which Johanna Bell’s excellent writing and endearing characters definitely exceeded. Having worked closely with various police forces within many of my ‘day jobs’, female police officers are something which I, like most people today, take completely for granted. However, despite having an interest in women’s history, I’m ashamed to admit that I had a fairly limited understanding of how female police officers came to exist. I did an entire module on the history of policing at university, and I don’t think female officers got one mention; clearly I was too busy stacking shelves on the weekends to fund weeknight pub crawls across the college bars to take the time to question that.

So, ‘The Bobby Girls’ follows three women from vastly different backgrounds who all sign up to be part of the ‘Women Police Volunteers’ (WPV) during the First World War. I had never actually heard of this volunteer scheme before, so it was certainly interesting to learn about from a historical point of view, but mostly just exciting to tag along with three fiercely empowered women as they protect London’s streets from dangerous criminals and help their fellow sisters wherever they can, all out of the goodness of their hearts, despite constant discrimination from men and the prospect of them having the right to vote seeming even further away than the complete end of lockdown restrictions.

“‘How has the WPV changed you?’ She asked her instead. Irene looked thoughtful. ‘I’ve realised that people from all walks of life can be friends,’ she said. ‘And that I can achieve anything I put my mind to.'”

Although this saga follows four main recruits of the WPV, this instalment focused mainly on the slightly naive, upper class Maggie (or Posh Spice, as I think could be an appropriate alter ego), and her story of discovering her own strength, as well as learning more than she bargained for about a world which her parents had kept her sheltered from. Although she has quite the personal journey in this one, I finished the book with a niggling feeling that her story is really only just beginning; and am definitely looking forward to seeing where her newfound strength and confidence takes her, as well as learning more about her empowered comrades and where their WPV experience will take them. Maggie, Annie and Irene’s binding friendship and fearlessness had me wanting to stand up and belt out ‘Sisters are Doin’ it For Themselves’, but for the sake of my poor neighbours, I didn’t. Plus, I couldn’t put the book down for long enough to actually do that, for fear of missing out on their next exciting escapade. Although, the second instalment is out in May, so it is always nice to leave something for next time.

“‘As I’ve always said, if you want a job doing properly then you should ask a woman to do it,’ she added, her eyes twinkling mischievously.”

Blog Tour – Pearl of Pit Lane

Glenda Young is an author who I have really come to like, and who has quickly become one of the main names in saga/historical fiction genres, but unfortunately she seems to have an irritating habit of releasing books at times when my life is too busy to give them the attention they really deserve. How inconsiderate of her. I did find time to review her first novel, which I loved, the second was devoured in the midst of my wedding plans and so was overlooked on my blog, and the third clashed with a frantic Christmas. However, her third novel was recently released in paperback, so it seemed like the right time to finally give it the hype it deserves; and, as we all know, I’m never one to shy away from an opportunity to get excited about great books within a blog tour!

Even though I’ve just listed them choronologically, Glenda’s novels can be read in any order, and would no doubt be enjoyed just as much in any combination. Personally, I would suggest a binge-read if you haven’t tried any of them; and if the news is anything to go by at the moment it seems like the safest place to be is at home with some great books, so why not get the Kindle stocked up?
‘Pearl of Pit Lane’ follows orphaned Pearl Edwards, who has a tough life with her aunt Annie, who has to walk the ‘pit lane’ to keep a roof over their heads, but as times get harder Pearl finds herself faced with few other options than to follow in Annie’s footsteps. However, her strong will and fearless independence helps Pearl to find her own way in a difficult world, even learning more than she had bargained to about herself along the way.

“Put me to work on the pit lane, would you? Is that all you think I’m worth?”

Like its two predecessors, ‘Pearl of Pit Lane’ takes place in 1919, a time period which I find is generally quite overlooked within historical fiction. It’s understandable that it would be, I suppose, since it can reasonably be assumed that it was probably a ‘lull’ after the massive events which dominated the previous four years (like that weird week between Christmas and New Year when nobody knows what the hell is going on), but that’s what makes these stories all the more interesting. We all know a lot about what happened between 1914 and 1918, but what happened after that? I was naive enough to think that things probably went back to ‘business as usual’, after this, but as this story in particular informs us, that was certainly not the case. Set in the North East village of Ryhope, which is just next to where I grew up, I initially thought that ‘Pearl of Pit Lane’ would have a degree of familiarity for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover Glenda’s words breathing fresh life in to a familiar place, to the extent that I felt as though I was being transported into a totally different world. So, her novels are absolutely not just for the attention of those of us who are lucky enough to be able to relate to some of the landmarks which still stand today.

Even though I grew up close to where the novel is set and studied history for a good few years, I had absolutely no idea about the history of ‘pit lanes’; so it was really intriguing to learn about a darker side of the past. That’s one of the many wonderful things about Glenda Young’s writing; all of her novels take a fairly dark element of the time period in which they are set, but her fierce female protagonists always manage to take those struggles and turn them into inspiring and heartwarming triumphs which have the reader holding back tears by the end. It’s a difficult balance to get; managing the tipping points between the more gritty and unpleasant aspects of history with the warming romance which comes with this genre, but she always seems to achieve it perfectly, and with the added bonus of totally inspirational characters.

“Her clothes might be worn and shabby, but she had a heart the size of Ryhope itself.”

Although this post is specifically focused on ‘Pearl of Pit Lane’, I thoroughly recommend reading all of Glenda Young’s novels; I definitely enjoyed all three in equal measure and am looking forward to the next, and, if you keep the characters from each one fresh in your mind; you might find a few bonus surprises in the other stories. The only thing which I feel Glenda has left her readers without is a spin-off novel in which all of her formidable female leads join together to overcome some huge adversity, because that would be absolutely epic; like ‘The Avengers’, only actually enjoyable and inspiring.

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