Tuesday, 29 December 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Queen Bee by Jane Fallon

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Queen Bee by Jane Fallon - 4/5
Blurb:
Moving into The Close, all Laura wants is peace and privacy.

But resident Queen Bee Stella is suspicious, fearing Laura has designs for her fiancé, Al.

So when Laura stumbles on Al's big secret, Stella's perfectly controlled world falls apart. As the two women take a chance on beating Al at his own twisted game, these former strangers are fast becoming best friends.

But has Laura forgotten that revenge always comes with a sting in the tail?

Review:
I listened to this as an audiobook and it just reminded me of how much I love audiobooks. It is read by Jo Joyner and she is wonderful. Perfect differences between characters and easy to follow along with.

Laura's husband has left her and she finds herself moving into the annex of a house in The Close, an upmarket area of London, full of rich people living in mansions.

Laura runs her own cleaning firm and shares an eight-year-old daughter, Betsy, with ex-husband David. Due to Laura living in uncertain conditions, Betsy stays with David most of the time and Laura is desperate to change that, determined to only stay in the annex for six months.

Being the new person on The Close, she wants to try and fit in. After an evening at Gail and Ben's (the couple whose annex she lives in) she realises that she knows one of the husband's; Al who runs AJT Music, she has a cleaning contract there. Al's fiancée Stella takes an instant dislike to Laura, assuming that the newly single woman on The Close wants to get her claws into her husband and turns all of the other women against her. Queen Bee, indeed.

Laura accidently comes across some shady dealings that Al is involved in, tells Stella and the two become unlikely friends and conspirators.

I really enjoyed this book. It made me laugh out loud and had some twists thrown in too! I definitely have to get a paperback copy.


Friday, 18 December 2020

You'll See by Jesse Bhaird | Blog Tour

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book for my participation in this Blog Tour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

You'll See by Jesse Bhaird - 4/5
Genre: Contemporary
Pages: 231
Blurb:
"How far would you go to help the ones you love? How far would you go to prevent them from feeling pain? Now, how far would you go to save yourself?

Life was supposed to be straightforward for Cass Wilkes. After finishing college she’d secured a job that most dreamt of, but never came close to. Her career as a surgeon would be her identity, her armour. Her rank would speak for itself so she wouldn’t have to. But what happens when a crack forms in the life you’ve built? When something completely out of your control, something you could never have planned for threatens to upend everything you’ve worked so hard for? What happens when you can’t touch the threat?

When the call for help comes from her best friend, Cass makes the easy decision to leave London behind for a while, holding out hope that things will be back to normal when she returns.

Expecting to find solace in a new project that’s worlds apart from the stress and responsibility of her normal job, what she doesn’t expect is to be presented with the prospect of a completely new start. She takes refuge in a big city thousands of miles from home, that unbeknownst to her, will show her real love, true loss, and fill her with utter hope. During her time in San Francisco, Cass will be tasked to overcome the things she never knew were chasing her."

Review:
I signed up to the blog tour for this book knowing nothing about the author. I was intrigued by the synopsis as it sounded like a wonderful book. I then discovered that is has been self-published by the author and what a gem of a book this is! 

Cass Wilkes and Gaby Diaz are friends who met at university in London. Both are surgeons, Cass staying in London and Gaby moving to San Francisco to work.

Cass is on sabbatical and Gaby invites her over to work on a prosthetics project with her. Although quite a relatively short book, there is a lot packed into it. I love the characters of Gaby and Cass and the supporting characters of Adam and his friendly dog Bear, and Gaby's boyfriend Mike and his friend Garret, who are also doctors.

Sparks do fly between Garret and Cass but it isn't really the main theme of the story. We discover why Cass is on sabbatical and how being in San Francisco is helping her, in a sense. 

I like the medical theme running through this book and it is easy to follow. The characters are all well-developed and I feel like we know a lot about them. It is very fast-paced, especially the romance between Cass and Garret. I would love for it to be a bit longer as I just wanted more! 

You can purchase your own copy from Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2Ua2DSx

About the Author: 
Jesse Bhaird was born and raised in Ireland although currently resides in Canada. She is a Trinity College Dublin graduate - where she studied nothing related to writing! As a full-time health care professional, her newfound joy is writing. When not found working, adulting or reading, she can be found outside herding small children and a large dog (all hers) and loves to escape to the mountains when she can for snowboarding in the winter.

A massive thank you to Love Books Tours for having me along on the tour.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton - Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton - 4/5 
Blurb:
Two women. A dying wish. And a web of lies that will bring their world crashing down.

Nina and Marie were best friends - until Nina was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Before she died, Nina asked Marie to fulfill her final wishes. 

But her mistake was in thinking that Marie was someone she could trust.

What Nina didn't know was that Marie always wanted her beautiful life, and that Marie has an agenda of her own. She'll do anything to get what she wants. 

Marie thinks she can keep her promise to her friend's family on her own terms. But what she doesn't know is that Nina was hiding explosive secrets of her own...

Review:
This book is the definition of psychological thriller.

Marie, Nina and Camilla were friends when they were younger. Nina met husband Stuart whilst holidayinh in Ibiza with Marie and Camilla. On the same trip, something fatal happened to Marie's boyfriend Charlie. Camilla then moved to Canada whilst Nina and Marie remained close friends. Following Nina's death from melanoma, Marie promised that she would be there to help Nina's family; husband Stuart and their two children Felix and Emily. 

Marie and Stuart end up together quite quickly but a lot of people are judgemental about it, including a mystery person leaving notes through their door.

At the same time, Camilla comes back from Canada with her eleven-year-old daughter Louise. But why? Why is she back now? What truly happened on that trip to Ibiza?

This book is so deep. Instantly, I was a little unnerved by Marie. She was obviously obsessed with Nina and wanted to edge her way into her life after she died. I love that we see her thoughts too as this really helps paint a picture of her true character.

It turns out that a lot of people were keeping secrets and Marie is desperate to find out the truth about what happened to Charlie. It seems that even her best friend Nina didn't tell her everything.

A lot of the time I didn't know who to trust, who I disliked more and I couldn't wait to keep reading to see what the climax would be. It is a slow burn and written brilliantly.


Thank you to Headline Books for having me on the blog tour and you can find other reviews at the websites below.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Keep Her Quiet by Emma Curtis

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Keep Her Quiet by Emma Curtis - 5/5 

Blurb:
Jenny has just given birth to the baby she's always wanted. She's never been this happy.

Her husband, Leo, knows this baby girl can't be his. He's never felt so betrayed.

The same night, a vulnerable young woman, Hannah, wakes to find her newborn lifeless beside her. She's crazed with grief.

When chance throws Hannah into Leo's path, they make a plan that will have shattering consequences for all of them.

Years later, a sixteen-year-old girl reads an article in a newspaper, and embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about herself. But what she learns will put everything she has ever known - and her own life - in grave danger. Because some people will go to desperate lengths to protect the secrets their lives are built on...

Review:
This book is fantastic. The last couple of books I've read haven't gripped me so I needed a book like this to come along. I absolutely loved 'The Night You Left' by Emma Curtis so I had high hopes for 'Keep Her Quiet'.

The story is split into four parts; Part One set in 1989, Part Two set 16 years later in 2005, Part Three in 2007 and Part Four I will describe as "after".

In 1989, Jenny and Leo Creasey have a baby called Sophie. At the same time, 17 year old Hannah is estranged from her family after falling pregnant. Her newborn daughter dies by accidental asphyxiation after Hannah falls asleep with the baby in her bed.

In a panic, she runs out into the street and is hit by Leo Creasey's car. He has been drinking as he never wanted children, had a secret vasectomy, so he knows Jenny's baby isn't his. Hannah convinces Leo that he has killed her baby and he ends up taking Hannah to steal Jenny's baby from the hospital and Hannah raises her as her own.

16 years later, Leo and Jenny are still married and are doing a TV appeal for Sophie as her 16th birthday is approaching. Jenny has obviously never gotten over Sophie's disappearance. Leo has used the "fame" to take himself away from their London home to go to their cottage in Kent three days a week to write and has become a successful author. The contrast in how her disappearance has affected them is written very well.

Following the TV appeal, two girls at Zoe's school who pick on her, make jokes about how she could be the abducted girl because she's "so weird" and because her mother homeschooled her and they don't have a TV.

I don't want to get into the crux of the story because I am not about posting spoilers but this is a fantastic read. It touches tough subjects like the loss of a child and emotions due to Stockholm Syndrome.

I truly did not know where this story was going and I loved that. Usually I can tell or guess the plot as I read but this was just fantastic. I would love to see this book made into a movie. It is perfect for a screen. 

Monday, 30 November 2020

Gift a Hamper this Christmas with Highland Fayre

 [AD/Gifted - I received a Gift Box in exchange for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]


I find Christmas present shopping quite stressful. I always make sure I find the perfect present for the recipient, not wanting something that will sit around gathering dust or not be used.


Highland Fayre are a family run company in Scotland that has been around since 1985. Bespoke hampers are their specialty and they have lots to choose from so you will always be able to find the perfect one, whoever you are buying for.


With gifts ranging from presentation boxes and personalised bottles of wine to gift boxes and huge hampers, there are tons of different prices ranges and themes. Buying for someone who is vegan? A gin lover? Highland Fayre have got you sorted.


They very kindly sent me one of their Vegan Gift Boxes to try out which costs around £26. 


It came inside it's own gift boxes which is perfect for just wrapping and giving to your recipient and it included:

  • Lovemore Vegan O'chocos
  • Lazy Day Millionaire's Shortbread
  • Lazy Day Belgian Dark Chocolate Tiffin
  • Nudie Snacks Carrot Cake Protein Balls 
  • Nudie Snacks Premiuim Toasty Coconut Chips
  • Nudie Snacks Sour Cream & Chive Roasted Broad Beans
  • Nudie Snacks Salted Caramel Brownie Protein Balls
  • Rhythm 108 Hazelnut Praline Bar
  • Growers Garden Broccoli Crisps
  • Growers Garden Broccoli Crisps with Sour Cream & Chive
This is a lot packed into a little box and I was surprised by how much was in it. I was only aware of the Nudie and Rhythm 108 brands so it was nice to be introduced to some new ones.


I knew I'd love the Nudie Snacks Protein Balls but was pleasantly surprised by the broccoli crisps. Although broccoli is probably my favourite vegetable, I didn't see how it would translate into crisps format and still be tasty.

This would make a lovely gift this Christmas and, like it did me, it could introduce your recipient to some new brands.

If you want to find out more about Highland Fayre and their range of gifts, just head over to their website



Thursday, 26 November 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | The Twins by J.S. Lark

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

The Twins by J.S. Lark -  ★★
Blurb:
"Susan and Sarah. Sisters. Best friends. Together...forever?

Nothing could break them apart.

Until they meet him. 

And he can only choose one...

Now Susan is back. Determined to reclaim everything Sarah has taken from her. 

Her home. Her husband...her life?" 

Review:
This story follows twin sisters Susan and Sarah. You are immediately drawn in at the first chapter. Sarah is married to Jonny and they have a grown-up daughter called Lucy. Susan surprises them by turning up at their door and we learn that they have been estranged for 30 years. Something has happened in the past that Sarah wants to forget. She needs Susan to leave forever.

This book had the potential to be brilliant. It is written well and I did feel like I wanted to carry on to see what happened. Firstly, the chapters switch between three different timelines but also the narratives of both Susan and Sarah with no distinction. You don't know what moment in time you are at or whose character you are reading about until you've read into the chapter a bit.

The main storyline is great. Although I didn't like a single character in this book, we are given depth of both sisters, learning about their tough childhood and how they met Jonny. The book touches on a lot of different subjects from abuse, drug addiction, rape and teenage pregnancy.

For me, there was one too many twists. It ended up confusing and a little far fetched and unbelievable at times. 
Friday, 20 November 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | Just Between Friends by Rosie Nixon

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Just Between Friends by Rosie Nixon - 3/5 
Blurb:
"Aisha Moore is eight months pregnant. She's thrilled, and a little scared. Not least because her husband Jason hasn't quite wrapped his head around the fact. 

Lucy is having her first child too. She has finally got her wish - although the circumstances aren't quite what she had hoped. Oscar will be a great dad though, won't he? 

When the two women join the same baby group, they quickly become friends and before long they're confiding in each other. 

Only there's one thing Lucy hasn't told Aisha. And while a baby may turn your life upside-down, a secret this big will change everything."

Review:
'Just Between Friends' follows Aisha and Lucy who have joined the same baby group. Both ladies are in the later stages of pregnancy and the chapters are told in each of their points of view.

Their relationships are very different. Jason, Aisha's husband, is working a lot of overtime in preparation for the baby and she feels that he is stressing out about being a father.

Oscar got together with Lucy after she had IVF to conceive her baby, saying he would be there for the two of them.

It soon becomes clear that there is a secret that connects these two women, but what is it?

I had guessed pretty early on what the connection was so I was eager to read on to see if I was right. The story itself is well-written and full of humour. If you are a parent, you will definitely be able to relate to a lot of the stories in this book.

I loved all of the supporting characters and the different family dynamics/circumstances, touching on relatable subjects such as both vaginal and caesarean section births, colic, poo-splosions - it brought it all back to me! 


Friday, 13 November 2020

Another Us by Kirsten Hesketh - Book Review

[AD/Gifted - I received a copy of this book (via BritMums) directly from the author for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this post, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]

Another Us by Kirsten Hesketh - 5/5 
Blurb:
"What if Emma isn't the person she thought she was?

Her younger son has just been diagnosed with autism.

She's accidentally quit her job.

The marriage she was dedicated to suddenly seems like a sham.

She's pretty sure that she is going to have an affair with a hot new dad at the school.

The only thing that stays the same is everyone else. Emma realises it's not them - it's her. But if she's not who she thought she was, can her old life fit in with the new Emma?"

Review:
What a wonderful debut! 

'Another Us' follows the story of Emma and Daniel whose ten-year-old son Jack has been diagnosed with Asperger's. They also have a teenage son called Freddie and eight-year-old Lily. Following Jack's diagnosis, Emma reads a leaflet and learns about "The Statistic" - that 80% of marriages end before the autistic child turns 16. 

The story touches on a lot of subjects and it shows the strain that can be put on a relationship. Emma ends up having to leave her job and is then trying to navigate her new life spending more time at home, trying to give her three children the attention they all need whilst trying to start a freelancing job, and all the while wondering if she could have Asperger's too.

Emma and a few other of the special needs parents form together and try to organise a ball to raise money so that the school can have a group for their children. Emma gets quite close to one of the dads whilst Daniel job takes him to America for a few months. 

As the parent of an autistic child, a lot of this resonated with me. One such scenario was the differences between a tantrum and a meltdown (it infuriates me to this day when people refer to their neurotypical children's tantrums as "meltdowns"). That red mist descends and they truly cannot remember what just happened. A lot of Jack's behaviours reminded me of C, especially the fact that he could transfer files between games consoles "the boy who can't tie his own shoelaces".

This book made me laugh a lot, especially the Aspie parents Murder Mystery evening with the hilarious character names but it made me quite emotional too. I definitely saw a lot of myself in the character of Emma and it was interesting to read the development of their relationship.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Nostalgic Play with Flair Creative Play & Heritage Brands - Review

[AD/Gifted - We received these items for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Toys have a come a long way since the 80s and 90s but I love that there a few that have either stuck around and are still popular or have made a comeback. C and E were very excited to receive a box of goodies from Flair.


We received:

  • Mr Frosty
  • The Original Spirograph
  • The Original Spirograph: Scratch & Shimmer
  • Plasticine Movie Maker Studio
  • Plasticine Tool Box
  • Plasticine Softeez Noodle Doodle Assortment
I don't know who was happier with this - the kids or me! When I was a child, I owned The Original Spirograph and adored it (it was my favourite toy!) and I was desperate for a Mr Frosty but never got one. Imagine my excitement when we opened this parcel!

Mr Frosty
Mr Frosty has had a bit of an update since the 1980's. His look has definitely been modernised but it still works in the same way.

Inside the box you get the Mr Frosty Ice Crunchy maker, 3 x ice lolly moulds, 2 x Mr Frosty spoons, 1 x penguin juice dispenser, 1 x shaped ice tray moulds and 2 x Mr Frosty bowls.

Using a Mr Frosty could not be easier! To make lollies, we simply popped a mix of water with our favourite lemon flavoured squash and put them in the freezer overnight. 

Similarly to this, we changed up the flavour and did apple and blackcurrant ice shapes using the mould. These are great for putting on top of the crushed ice that you make with Mr Frosty or even putting into your drinks on a hot day.

Making crushed ice was definitely the children's favourite aspect of Mr Frosty. This parts works best if you use small ice cubes that have been left for approximately 30 minutes at room temperature, otherwise they can be difficult to crush.

Simply put the ice cubes into the Mr Frosty maker, gently put his hat on top and push down while you twist the handle on the back. This will make the mechanism move and the crushed ice will appear in the drawer at the front of the maker.

When your ice has all been crushed, put it into a bowl to eat and if you want to add a bit of flavour, simply put some juice or squash into the penguin juice dispenser and add as you please!

You can get your own Mr Frosty from Smyths Toys for £17.99.

Spirograph

Spirograph is one of those toys that brings me right back to my childhood. I remember sitting for hours making different designs.

We used The Original Spirograph first as the children had never used it before. Inside this set (which also doubles as a carrycase/built-in work surface) you get 19 x spirograph precision wheels, 2 x spirograph precision rings, 1 x spirograph precision rack, 3 x fine line design pens, 5g of reusable spiro-putty, 20 x sheets of design paper and 1 x design guide.

The design guide is a great place to start as it gives you a bit of an idea when it comes to know which size wheels will give you which design. Each ring has a number of holes for you to put your pen into and the design you get will different depending on which one you pick.

Spirograph definitely takes a bit of getting used to. You start by using the putty to stick the ring to your paper then make sure that you use the pen to push the wheel around the ring - without it coming off! - and you'll begin to see your design come to life! 

Spirograph is recommended for children aged 8+ due to the difficulty. C turned 8 in September and needed a little assistance to begin with but he soon got the hang of it. Once he had had enough practice, he started to get adventurous and was able to change pen colours and wheels, making for a more lively picture.

You can buy your own Original Spirograph from Argos for £28.

The Original Spirograph: Scratch & Shimmer is one that I have never seen before but it works in a similar way.

Inside the box you get 1 x spirograph precision ring, 6 x spirograph precision wheels, 4 x rainbow scratch sheets, 4 x glitter scratch sheets, 2 x sticker sheets, 1 x drawing stylus pen and 1 x guide book.

I loved to do scratch art as a child too so this was the perfect combination of two of my favourites. The underside of the rings have little dots which cause friction against the scratch sheets so they don't move. We did feel like we had to still hold it on the sheet though when moving the wheels around.

Scratch & Shimmer was a little bit more difficult. The main concept is the same, pick a hole in the wheel, move it around the ring and create a design. This time though, the stylus needs to be held at a ninety degree angle and more pressure needs to be put on it to make the scratches in the sheet.

The images come out very beautifully and E has already asked to hang them up in her room!

You can buy Spirograph Scratch & Shimmer from Argos for £20.

Plasticine
We love Plasticine in our house because, unlike other types of dough brands, it doesn't dry out. We only ever owned the individual strips and didn't know that there were other sets to choose from.

The Plasticine Tool Box is a cute little carrycase containing 7 x colours of Plasticine, 5 x shaped cutters, 1 modelling tool and 1 x roller.

This makes for a lot of open ended play which is definitely 6 year old E's favourite. The Plasticine is quite hard when you start off but after playing with it in your hands, the heat will make it softer. The shaped cutters are great for making animals and objects then creating your own pictures or scenes with them.

E took it one step further and made a full sculpture using the tools too!

You can find the Plasticine Tool Box at Amazon for £12.99.

Plasticine Softeez Noodle Doodle come in three different designs; Jungle, Ocean and Circus. E chose to do the Circus one while C opted for Ocean. Inside each pack you get 3 x Noodle Doodle sheets and 5 x Plasticine colours.

The Plasticine colours are already in "noodle" form and attached together so all you need to do is peel off a noodle and follow the squiggly line guides on the included sheets to create your picture.

I loved these as they are the type of set that the children can be left with to entertain themselves while I am busy cleaning! It has a great reusable aspect too and both C and E were very proud of their finished results. I think these would make lovely little gifts.

You can find the Plasticine Softeez Noodle Doodle Assortment from Amazon and independent toy retailers for around £4.99 each.

When C saw the Plasticine Movie Maker set, he was desperate to open it straight away because he spotted the 'Stop Motion' app logo on it. He loves making stop motion movies so this is right up his street!

Inside the box you get 12oz of Plasticine in assorted colours, 1 x modelling tool, 1 x stand for a smartphone or tablet, 4 x background scenes, 73 movie props and 1 x idea guide.

Both C and E were excited to get stuck in right away and set to coming up with a scene for their first shoot. Each of them designed their own person, using a few props along the way. 

We chose a scene then put our Plasticine people in the beginning positions. If you don't already have the Stop Motion app, this can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store. After taking the first photo on the app, we moved the people slightly then took another photo, and so on, until we were satisfied that we were finished. They were delighted with the outcome!



It is a lot easier to do that I first thought and it is a set that they have asked to play with almost every day since it arrived! This will definitely be a popular one for Christmas.

You can get the Plasticine Movie Maker from Amazon for £9.99.



Thursday, 5 November 2020

2020 Reading Challenge | The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

[This post contains affiliate links. If you click to buy anything through a link on this page, I will earn a few pennies at no extra cost to you.]


The Chalet by Catherine Cooper - 4/5 


Blurb: 

"French Alps, 1998


Two young men ski into a blizzard...but only one returns.


20 years later


Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting.


Someone knows what really happened that day.


And somebody will pay."


Review:

This book is great!


The Chalet alternates between two different timelines both set in the French ski resort of La Madiére. It is snowy, atmospheric and the scene is set wonderfully.


In 1998, brothers Will and Adam go skiing off-pister with instructors Cameron and Andy and both brothers end up missing. Adam is later found but Will is presumed dead.


In 2020, Ria and her husband Hugo are in the same resort for business reasons with Simon, his wife Cass, baby Inigo and nanny Sarah. Hugo wants Simon to potentially invest in his company.


We meet a host of additional characters such as the brothers' girlfriends Louisa and Nell back in 1998 and chalet workers Millie and Matt in 2020.


Will's body turns up in 2020, but what does this mean for the group that are currently staying there? Not everything is as it seems and some people may even have a connection to him.


This book is full of surprises and kept me guessing. I thought I had sussed it out but the twists kept coming. That very last sentence was wonderful!