‘The Road to Forever: Book 2 of the Road Series’ by Marla Marchado

I don’t even remember when or how I stumbled across the first of Marla’s books, but ever since, we’ve become great buddies and supporters of one another on Twitter.I’ve always longed to write my own book and would be so terrified of any feedback; after all, is your own writing not a reflection of your own soul and being!? This review has been a long time sat in my WordPress drafts, eager to jump out into the real world to shout about how fantastic this book is -written and re-written, edited and re-edited! I just hope it now does Marla and her beautiful writing justice – and makes her writer’s soul feel good!

The first book in the ‘Road’ series is called ‘The Road Back’ (my blogpost can be found here – https://thisgirlreadssite.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/the-road-back-by-marla-machado/?preview=true ) and follows the gorgeous story of Karina, a young widow of Jason and mother of two girls, and her first true love, Sawyer (yum). One of my absolute favourites. This second book is a follow-on, a continuation of sorts. Hannah is Karina’s sister, whilst her love interest, Ian, was Jason’s best friend and colleague (and also previously held a flame to Karina…awkward!).

This book opens at Karina and Sawyer’s wedding (spoiler alert for the first installment) and Hannah has just woken up in a strange hotel room, sore and woozy-headed, after a drunken-night with Ian. This comes years and years after flirtations and pining for him, so works out well for Hannah, though the walk-of-shame guilt does nothing for her ego to begin. Ian on the other hand is a little uneasy with the situation, this is Karina’s younger sister after all. That said, he comes around to the idea, though he has many bumps along the way, and the chemistry is undeniable! But of course, loves path never runs smoothly and, amongst plenty of other things (fighting personal demons, a kidnap, deaths, births and ER visits), there’s also plenty of love, ‘steam’ (ooh la la) and ‘stick’ to this book to make you want to keep on reading even after the very last page.

In comparison to the first book, there is absolutely 100% more drama and grit in this second installment and I love it! Of course, there is still the fabulously written, erotically charged scenes – I mean, this is a Marla Marchado book, guys. But there’s also so many twists and turns, shifts in time and place, you just never know how it’s going to end – and yet it’s written so cleverly, you follow the story the whole way along and are left wanting more from each page.
Marla’s writing style is clever, it’s easy, like having a conversation with a friend and catching up on all the gossip in a coffee shop or a bar. Her characters become like people you’ve known for years and the character development is flawless, considering how many crossovers and how much history Marla includes. I adore that we still have Karina and Sawyer in the picture, very much in the action of the key storyline; here we are introduced properly to their wider circle, the people who make them who they are (or were in the first novel)- I feel like I understand Karina even more after reading this book. Though they feature in this book, they do not dominate it; it really is a fresh story and fresh storyline developed for Hannah and Ian. I also have high hopes for a third book in the pipeline, maybe Ms Marchado…?!

A beautiful addition to this book are the opening dedications. The first is a loving shout-out to Marla’s daughter, Leah, and the second is a touching tribute for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all ladies out there. Ideally, read the first book first (support an author now, come on!) for the full backstory, but this book also works perfectly as a stand-alone novel – Marla gives enough detail for you to catch up on the gist of it, as it does form part of the key character developments to begin the novel. After all, this is all about Hannah and Ian, a new chapter in the ‘Road’ series, and hopefully the middle installment of a trilogy (is this enough hints that I want a third!?). It’s a bit of everything in this one; plenty of love, lust and action, superbly written by a very talented lady.

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‘Never Greener’ by Ruth Jones

‘OH! Wha’s occurin’?’

I absolutely adore Ruth Jones as Nessa in ‘Gavin and Stacey’ and was hoping it would live up to the hype. It really did! It’s very rare to be truly hooked by a book – so much so that it makes you just not want to go to work or do anything else but read! This was one of those books. I always feel so fortunate to find one like this.

Immediately, the first chapter grabs you in to witness a drunken, passionate clinch. Only later do we realise that the participants, Callum and Kate, have many complexities and seriously big issues getting in the way of them being together. For one, Callum has a wife and kids (who is not Kate!).

This book is all of everything – it’s exciting, tense, never predictable. It’s also (delectably) naughty and saucy. I love that Jones keeps you guessing to the very end and, never in a million years, could I have predicted how the book would end. I did worry a little in the middle that all the sneaking around and lying from the two main characters would become a little predictable and repetitive, but it soon picks up its pace again and you become involved in a very dirty little secret.

I found myself hating the character of Kate! I guess that this was the desired effect from Jones; but I did also feel pity towards her unfulfilled life, regardless of the money and lifestyle she has. I felt sorry for Callum’s wife and kids and certainly thought that he was No.1 idiot of the century.

However, the complexities of these character and the emotions they force you to feel only shows how fantastically this book is written. Going between time frames is seamless and uncomplicated, whilst adding depth to each character. It is well organised, perfectly set and I have recommended this to everyone I’ve spoken to about it!

So, what are you waiting for?

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Official Description

THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER AND WHSMITH FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2018, PICKED FOR THE ZOE BALL TV BOOK CLUB

‘Ruth Jones is excellent on human nature and why we make the mistakes we do. I felt for every character. Unputdownable.’ Jojo Moyes
*****
In her unmissable debut, actress and screenwriter Ruth Jones shows us the dangers of trying to recapture that which was once lost and failing to realise the beauty of what we already have.
*****
We spend most of our lives wishing we were somewhere else or someone else, or looking forward or harping back. Always thinking the grass is greener on the other side. But it never is. It’s still grass. Just a different patch of it, that’s all.
*****
The past has a habit of tracking us down. And tripping us up.

When Kate was twenty-two, she had an intense and passionate affair with a married man, Callum, which ended in heartbreak. Kate thought she’d never get over it.

Seventeen years later, life has moved on – Kate, now a successful actress, is living in London, married to Matt and mother to little Tallulah. Meanwhile Callum and his wife Belinda are happy together, living in Edinburgh and watching their kids grow up. The past, it would seem, is well and truly behind them all.

But then Kate meets Callum again.

And they are faced with a choice: to walk away from each other . . . or to risk finding out what might have been.

Second chances are a rare gift in life. But that doesn’t mean they should always be taken . . .
*****
‘I love books about gnarly, messy relationships and this one kept me gripped from the beginning. A great read.’ Jane Fallon

‘Heart-rending, provocative and astutely written, Never Greener is a love story about getting what you want and losing everything you need. Ruth’s characters will stay with me for a long time.’ Cathy Bramley

Festive feel-goods!

Christmas is absolutely my favourite time of the year. But sometimes work can feel overwhelming with so much to do before the holidays, as can the shopping, organisation, cleaning…the list goes on! As always, I look for methods to ‘escape’ or ‘cope’ when i’m feeling a bit blue.

Here, I’m going to share some of my favourite Christmas movies (which also happen to have fantastic soundtracks!) and reads for this festive period – something with that extra feel-good factor when you need a little escape from reality, to immerse yourself into the Holiday spirit!

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Polar Express – Chris Van Allsburg (book and film)

  • Feel-good rating: 9/10
  • Feel-good factor: Childhood memories – Believe in Father Christmas!
  • Christmas message: Believe! I absolutely love the magic of Christmas. It teaches us that love is the key aspect to Christmas this and every year. Beautiful illustrations in the book and a whole load of Tom Hanks in the movie.

The Christmas Truce – Carol Ann Duffy (book)

  • Feel-good rating: 8/10
  • Feel-good factor: Emotions. Peace even in the darkest of wars.
  • Christmas message: I love this story and it’s retold beautifully in CAD’s traditional verse. The pause of the Great War on Christmas day. I teach this and it get me every year. Perfect pairing? ‘Pipes of Peace’ by Paul McCartney – trust me…

The Grinch (2018 film)

  • Feel-good rating: 8/10
  • Feel-good factor: Cartoon-y goodness! Green monster remembers to love at Christmas.
  • Christmas message: We can enjoy Christmas without gifts and STUFF? Absolutely. I just went to see this with my Year 6’s; I loved it, they loved it. A pure, feel-good movie this Christmas – even better than the Jim Carey version, sorry, guys!

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (film)

  • Feel-good rating: 10/10
  • Feel-good factor: The first and original HP. All the feels!
  • Christmas message: I love Harry Potter so this is absolutely a favourite whatever time of year. ITV seems to have made HP a Christmas tradition. I love it. Gorgeous soundtrack, stunning story and messages of acceptance.

Home Alone (film 1/2)

  • Feel-good rating: 9/10
  • Feel-good factor: Hilarious.
  • Christmas message: Can watch this in July and still feel Christmassey. Macaulay at his best. Hilarity all round, unbelievable injuries, excellent soundtrack and too many classic movie quotes. KEVIN!

Muppet’s Christmas Carol (film)

  • Feel-good rating: 8/10
  • Feel-good factor: Charles Dickens’ classic but with puppets and some great sing-along songs.
  • Christmas message: Again, we don’t need stuff. We need generosity, love and peace. Even Scrooge can change! Reminds me of my Christmas Eve tradition – church, chippy, Christmas Carol. The three greatest combined ‘C’s…

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Now, we all have our own routines, traditions and preferences. But if you’re feeling down this Christmas, why not try one of these? Mix it up a bit! I’m always looking for new Christmas goodies to add to my collection. If you can fully switch of and immerse yourself in a good movie or book, paired with a nice candle and a hot chocolate, as well as lots of soft furnishings, you’re on your way to Christmas calm this December.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!

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First published on This Girl Talks – thisgirltalks01.wordpress.com

‘Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood

This book was always one on my TBR list, even as a teenager. Just as I left school, this became part of the National Curriculum – typical.

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This year, Handmaids Tale was made into a TV series and, after seeing various different mentions of it on Twitter, I took the plunge and ordered the DVD of the first series – why not? Knowing very little about the outline of the story, I went into watching the series almost blind. Little did I know that this series, leading me to the book, would take me on a journey learning about my own thoughts as a woman! My husband and I watched the series as a joint venture of a weekend; I’d start watching it chilled out and relaxed, and end up leaning into the TV screen and raging – but in a good way! It’d been a long time since I’d been so hooked on a TV series, and naturally knew I had to give the book a go – finally.

The book is very similar to the series (though some events have changed for tv), meaning the actress playing Offred does a fantastic job. The book also has the same effect on me – leaving me reeling and deep in thought after each chapter! I couldn’t wait to read on but also felt like I couldn’t wait to get through it and it be done with.

It’s a hard book, especially as a woman, to read. The basic plot being that in a warped, non-specific religion-led, dystopian world, women are treated as second-class citizens; denied the right to wear what they want, own property, earn cash and even have a selective relationship. Women, those that are left fertile in this weird guessing game of what went wrong with the world, are used by well-off families (with infertile wives) to carry and produce offspring. It’s all very weird and very controversial. This book was written in the 80’s so was incredibly advanced for the time, and yet so much of it rings true – denial of certain choices, for example. Obviously, it’s a vastly over-exaggerated reality under a giant magnifying glass, but I am so glad this text is used in schools! Certain aspects I can imagine are a little inappropriate (as you can imagine) but this is so worth a read and a fantastic discussion-prompting text – I regularly gave my colleagues in work updates as I worked through the series and the books.

Enraging. Haunting. Highly recommended. Check it out.

Official Description:

DISCOVER the BESTSELLING DYSTOPIAN NOVEL behind the AWARD-WINNING TV SERIES
Second season now airing on Channel 4 starring Elisabeth Moss.

With a new introduction from Margaret Atwood.

‘I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.’

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford – her assigned name, Offred, means ‘of Fred’. She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.

Masterfully conceived and executed, this haunting vision of the future places Margaret Atwood at the forefront of dystopian fiction.

‘As relevant today as it was when Atwood wrote it…no television event has hit such a nerve …The Handmaid’s Tale is more relevant one year after the first season’ – Guardian 

‘Don’t expect to be gripped by a more potent or involving drama this year’ – Telegraph

‘Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table’ by Stephen Westaby

This is an incredible book. I am well known for my love of unusual non-fiction books – be it WW2 or medically related – this is the most recent in my collection. I was more anxious to read this one, for fear of it being too gory. Okay, so it wasn’t NOT gory, but it wasn’t repulsive or unreadable for a squeamish head. If anything, it was so well written that it was fascinating (cracking the rib-cage open and all) and I felt like I was starting to pick up on the medical vocabulary!

Stephen Westaby was recently on ‘This Morning’ and I was worried in case he didn’t live up to the image I’d built of him in my head having read his book…but I wasn’t disappointed. He truly is a fascinating man. He has saved infinite lives and steered the helm of a revolution in heart operations and heart health. He writes in his book about the most dangerous and revolutionary of operations, keeping you on the edge of your seat to get to the end of each chapter.

It is a fantastic read for anybody not medically involved, but simply with a morbid fascination for medicine/interest for inspirational figures, or those involved in the medical field. Well worth a read – and while you’re at it, check the YouTube videos of his interviews out. What a guy!

Official Description:

An incredible memoir from one of the world’s most eminent heart surgeons, recalling some of the most remarkable and poignant cases he’s worked on.

Grim Reaper sits on the heart surgeon’s shoulder. A slip of the hand and life ebbs away.

The balance between life and death is so delicate, and the heart surgeon walks that rope between the two. In the operating room there is no time for doubt. It is flesh, blood, rib-retractors and pumping the vital organ with your bare hand to squeeze the life back into it. An off-day can have dire consequences – this job has a steep learning curve, and the cost is measured in human life. Cardiac surgery is not for the faint of heart.

Professor Stephen Westaby took chances and pushed the boundaries of heart surgery. He saved hundreds of lives over the course of a thirty-five year career and now, in his astounding memoir, Westaby details some of his most remarkable and poignant cases – such as the baby who had suffered multiple heart attacks by six months old, a woman who lived the nightmare of locked-in syndrome, and a man whose life was powered by a battery for eight years.

A powerful, important and incredibly moving book, Fragile Lives offers an exceptional insight into the exhilarating and sometimes tragic world of heart surgery, and how it feels to hold someone’s life in your hands.

Blurt ‘BuddyBox’ (Sept 2018)

Hi, guys! So something a little different!

In the next few weeks, I’ll be doing a ‘spin off’ blog from my main stream blog of books at This Girl Reads. It’s something I am desperately passionate about, having seen mental health issues first hand. Of course, I’ll be carrying on with This Girl Reads, as reading is another huge passion of mine. I’ll be mooching some of my previous reviews on well-being, mental health, self-care books and also reviewing new products out there, including self-care boxes… So here’s my first!

I ordered the September Blurt Foundation (https://www.blurtitout.org/) ‘Buddy Box’ in August as I know I always struggle getting back into the routine of the busy work day after 6 weeks off for summer. Teaching isn’t an easy job and, more often than not, 2 weeks of the holiday are spent unwinding, 2 on holiday, then 2 more dreading coming back!

img_20180915_111143.jpgThe box is beautifully presented. It comes in a lovely foil-printed, lidded card box. When I first lifted off the lid, I could immediately smell the calming lavender of the included shower/bath bomb..heaven. The inside of the box is wrapped in a theme-matching tissue paper. It’s all the little things that they think of that makes this a real treat.

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Included in this month’s box is:

  • The Blurt Zine
  • Two postcards
  • A ‘peopled out’ doorhanger
  • A deck of cards with 54 self-care ideas
  • A mapology guide – ‘How to grow your no!’
  • A Lavender bath bomb for the shower
  • And the beautiful Blurt Foundation written book, ‘365 days of self-care: a journal’

I particularly love the deck of cards, such a good idea for a lazy Sunday. Not sure what to do with yourself? Feeling a little down? Grab a card and find a reflective activity to do -from letter writing, napping to reading a favourite book. I love these. Also perfect for post-work wind-downs.

davThe Blurt zine, the postcards and the mapology guides are the literature of the box. Perfect to read and reflect, or to read and share with those around you. Spread the self-care love!

I cannot wait to try out the bath bomb for the shower! I rarely have time to have a bath in the week, but this sounds so interesting. I gather it goes in the bath at your feet and is set off by the shower water, releasing a delectable, calming fragrance. Love it! I’ll be saving this for a particularly stressful day to make the most of it before bed.

Finally, the journal. This is a winner for me. I have seen that the Blurt boxes often include a book, but this is their own book! I saw this advertised on Twitter a short while ago; a follow up to their hugely successful self-care guide. I have tried diaries, journal, everything before. I currently rely on the Daylio app (available for free from Android/Apple, https://daylio.webflow.io/ ) as it’s quick and painless on my phone. I managed to journal this year until…May. When shit got really stressful in work and it all just fell apart a bit – really, when I needed it most, but didn’t have the appropriate journalling resource. I mark for a living! So the thought of sitting and writing, be it a line or 5, isn’t enjoyable. Which is where this journal is fantastic. No start dates, dip in and out, not loads of writing, no guilt for leaving it. It’s not dated, but labelled as ‘day one’ or ‘day 67’, for example. The journalling itself would take minutes, asking you to reflect over ‘mood, sleep, hydration’ and any additional notes, with single word prompts, such as ‘colour’ or ‘appreciate.’ It’s simple. It’s effective. I cannot wait to get stuck in to some guilt free blogging.

I will absolutely be keeping my eye out for what’s in October’s box, as my birthday is in November…so a gift from me to me, of course!

Only £21.50 for individual boxes, available one-off or as a subscription. They’re definitely worth the price – they even include the individual prices in the box so you can see what fantastic value for money it is, and how well your money is being used as a donation. Plus you can buy extras of the goodies you really love from the Blurt Foundation shop online! (see the link above)

My Summer Fiction Reads 2018 📚☀️

‘Max’ by Sarah Cohen-Scali

  • Desperately original, told from the perspective of a ‘pure Nazi’ baby…
  • Gripping, historical fiction.
  • So interesting and freaky in equal measure!
  • Thought provoking.
  • A must read for fans of World War historical fiction.

Official Description: Baby Max is the perfect prototype of the Nazi eugenics programme; he is the ideal size, he has the correct colour hair and flawless blue eyes. Raised in an ideology driven by hatred and ruled by fear, Max is taught to endure pain and be brave at all costs. But as he is drawn further into the horror of war, Max must fight to untangle the truth from the lie.

‘The Snowman’ (inspired by the original) by Michael Morpurgo

  • A beautiful Christmas reimagining by the king of children’s fiction.
  • A lovely main character.
  • Perfect for the upcoming Christmas season.
  • Creates a new story, using the vintage ideas, whilst holding onto the charm of the original.
  • Delectable illustrations.

Official Description: When James wakes to see snow falling one December morning, he is delighted and rushes outside to make a snowman. With coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf and a tangerine nose, he is perfect and James can hardly bear to go inside and leave him. In the middle of the night, he wakes and creeps out to see his Snowman again – and to his amazement, the Snowman comes to life… This special tale of true Christmas magic will bring everyone’s favourite childhood festive character to a brand new audience.

‘The Last Straw’ by Ed Duncan

  • A fab book with great scope for a series.
  • Great characters and plot development.
  • Pacey crime thriller.
  • Twists and turns throughout.
  • Well worth the read!

Official Description: When a teenage girl witnesses a carjacking gone bad, she is marked for death by a crime boss with no apparent motive. A black lawyer and a white enforcer with an unlikely history forge an uneasy alliance to protect the girl from a hit man with an agenda of his own.

Paul Elliott – lawyer and close friend of the witness’s family – begins counseling them and becomes entangled in the murder plot.

As the long-simmering feud between Rico – the white enforcer – and the hitman John D’Angelo reaches boiling point, bodies start to pile up in rapid succession… and old scores will be settled.

‘The Unexpected Inlander’ by Kellyn Thompson

  • This is something so different!
  • Gripping read.
  • A crime novella from a different perspective.
  • Plenty of page-turning excitement.
  • A cheeky dab of romance!

Official Description: Agent Christopher Rockford has been the best assassin in the agency for eight years, and he loves his job. He loves his solitary lifestyle. He loves eliminating criminals. He loves his comfortable life as a member of society’s wealthy coastal upper class.

But in pursuit of a target, he meets Jenna, a mysterious civilian who belongs to society’s lowest and most shunned group. Being around her is fun and intriguing, but it forces him to see things through her eyes—causing him to reconsider the world around them and The Order he so obediently serves. As he falls in love with her, he fears telling her the truth about his profession may cause him to lose her.

But Jenna has her own secrets to keep.