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‘Mine’ by Emily Merrill

I was super lucky to be approached my Bookollective on Twitter to be a part of the book tour for this new book release. I’ve decided to write this review and post it on both of my sites – my book site (thisgirlreadssite.wordpress.com) as well as my mental health site (thisgirltalks01.wordpress.com), simply due to the sensitive themes this fantastic book covers.

This is Emily Merrill’s debut novel – and what a novel it is! Covering the difficult topic of controlling, abusive relationships, Ms Merrill does it flawlessly. It is a hard book to read – you see a ‘normal’ relationship on the outside suddenly turn nasty. The two main characters, Avery and Luke, suddenly hit a hard transition – Luke has followed Avery up to York to be closer to her and work whilst she completes her English degree. He is finding work increasingly more ‘stressful’ and more difficult to reach his father’s high expectations, whilst Avery begins the book happy; content in writing her new book, settling well into her university life and house with her flatmates, as well as having made friends with an upcoming writer in a nearby café (Beckett). But it’s this relationship which appears to first start to trigger Luke’s obsessive, controlling behaviours off. The unravelling of a perfectly normal, happy girl, becoming withdrawn, secretive, self-blaming and controlled, is nothing short of disturbing.

I genuinely think this book should be in Secondary School libraries across the country. ‘Mine’ shows how the smallest of actions collectively suddenly become manipulative, and even the wisest of people will not dare to believe it is happening to them. Early on, Luke goes from sulking and snapping, to pushing and phone peeping. Things which may appear to be ‘one-offs’, but together become a whole map of control and calculating behaviours – detrimental to Avery’s mental, and eventually physical, health.

This book is thrilling, hooking you in from the first chapter. Avery is a really likeable character and her life interested me – I feel like I really know her! The character description is incredible and the way that Emily writes this book is so, so clever. The abusive side to Luke could have been written in a much more obvious way – physically, perhaps. But the effect on the reader would have been much less intense, and it is, in fact, the more subtle of changes to both the verbal and physical responses to Emily’s lifestyle that makes it all the more terrifying. That, and her unwillingness to share with those who love her, all in order to save face – after all, is admitting it believing it is happening?

The reality is, that this could happen to anyone – female or male – but spotting it isn’t always easy. It may not even be in a partnered relationship, but within families, workplaces or friendship groups. I hope, and I’m sure Ms Merrill feels the same way, that if this book helps just one person to suddenly see similarities in their own relationship, to get them out, to save themselves, that it has done it’s job. I absolutely steamed through it and couldn’t wait to go to bed every night to get stuck back into it. My heart was pounding and I felt so protective of Avery within mere chapters of the book! It made me so angry, sad but also left me thinking long after I closed the book for the night – and certainly after the explosive final few chapters. A very cleverly written book, immersing you entirely into the complexities of such a relationship, but also the contrast in the setting of beautiful York. Well done, Emily Merrill on such a fantastic debut novel.

Mine (Paperback)

Official Description

Avery and Luke are solid. The love they have is the envy of her friends. So when he joins her at university, she’s pretty sure that life can’t get much better. But something is changing and when Avery makes a new friend in the brilliant writer Beckett, she starts to see a new side to the man she loves. A side that scares her. As their relationship begins to spiral, she’s faced with a life-changing decision. Should she fight for her boyfriend? Or should she fight for herself?

‘Home Alone on Hope Island’ by Portia MacIntosh

Twitter is good for many things, but especially for finding hidden gems – be it Christmas gifts, journal ideas, new friends or authors. I stumbled across Portia MacIntosh – having previously seen some of her books on Amazon – and loved the cover release for her new festive read ‘Home Alone on Hope Island.’ After looking it up on the internet, I just knew I had to read it! The tag lines (see the official description at the bottom of this page) said the book was a mix of all your favourite Christmas films. And boy, was it.

I felt like this book was the perfect mix of ‘Home Alone’ (Lexi goes home to find her parents have gone away for the holidays and even stages a ‘dry run’ fake party with music and faux chatter), ‘Christmas with the Kranks’ (cue Christmas light neighbour wars and last minute Christmas Eve parties) and ‘The Holiday’ (hello, Christmas romance in a beautiful, remote island village). And yet, despite being reminiscent of all of these films, it is beautifully unique and perfectly heart warming.

This was my first Christmas book of the season, and the first I’ve read of Ms MacIntosh’s works – but this has given me a kick up the bum to read the already downloaded books I have and has also got me to buy the rest in the same-setting series. I absolutely love the characters and found myself feeling like I really knew these people! Portia has a really easy writer’s voice to read – which I absolutely know an easy read isn’t necessarily an easy write! The character development is great and, in this book, Lexi is so likeable – and certainly relatable. I laughed out loud in lots of instances (including the page about ‘Tom Jones’ – Lexi’s ex) and found that I really could imagine this beautiful island. It gave me a warm heart on a cold day.

Portia knows I loved this book, especially as I tweeted her more than a handful of times to tell her so – sorry, lovely! But, I highly recommend this book and would describe it as a fun, festive, all-the-feels, easy read. 5 stars! What are you waiting for? Go and get it now!

Home Alone on Hope Island: A fun, festive read by [MacIntosh, Portia]

Official Description

Lexi Newman is coming home for Christmas… she should have called first.
The silver lining, when Lexi is dumped by her long-term boyfriend, is that she’s finally going to get to enjoy a family Christmas after years of doing whatever her ex wanted to them to do. The only problem is that Lexi hasn’t called ahead to let her parents know she’s coming…
Lexi arrives at her Hope Island childhood home only to realise that her parents have decided to go on holiday for the festive season this year. With nowhere else to go, and no one else to stay with, Lexi is going to have to spend Christmas home alone in her parents’ big house, but the bigger the house, the emptier it seems.
With her nosy neighbours suspicious and her childhood friends asking her all about her life, Lexi lies that she’s here to use her parents’ house for a big Christmas party while they are away, but as more and more people find out about the party, it’s going to take a lot more than some loud music and some flashing lights to convince everyone that she isn’t alone.
With just 12 days to go, will Lexi find someone to spend the holidays with, or will she be home alone for Christmas?

‘Sweet Sorrow’ by David Nicholls

So, as many of you will probably have noticed, my reading in 2019 has well and truly been in a slump. Between that and focussing a bit more on my other site – This Girl Talks – as well as myself, I’ve neglected This Girl Reads and generally working on my TBR pile. I’ve still been buying books by the shedload, but none have caught my eye or held my excitement quite so much as David Nicholls’ newest offering.

This is a story of first loves, lost loves, newfound selves and that understanding of the world that drip feeds into our lives, in theory, with every year we grow. I feel like this book has come into my life at the perfect time – silly as that may sound. I’m in a bit of a struggle with work, I’m under a fair bit of pressure (moving house – ouch), and I’m ever aware that I’m turning 30 next year – a pretty big turning point into a new chapter in my life. In this book, I felt like I was taken on Charlie Lewis’ journey. A typical, silly 16 year old boy, big rocks in school, and suddenly thrown into the real world.

Charlie takes us with him as he reminisces back over his teen years, momentarily flitting throughout back to his present, where we see minor snippets of where his path has taken him. We learn all about his petrol station shenannigans involving scratchcards and dodgy champagne flutes, his broken home and his life with his poorly Dad, a man who suffers terribly with depression, as well as his finding his way from his teen years’ persona to a decent, young adult. He struggles with the reversal of roles between him and his father, the loss (of sorts) of his mother and the change in dynamics with his familiar school ‘friends’ as their paths pull apart.

But the most important story of Charlie’s is that of his involvement with the stumbled upon Shakespeare acting ‘Company’ and his young love for the beautiful, seemingly got it all together, Fran Fisher. The opposite to Charlie, Fran is from the good side of town, a well-off family, well to do, well educated, well spoken. But with a little bit of a wild streak. He makes new friends, makes new memories and follows new paths.

I felt like I could really identify with this book – not only because there were some strange coincidental links to my own life – from Charlie’s dad’s illness, to the mention of the Wirral, to Fran’s dad’s name matching that of my late-grandad, the Romeo and Juliet aspect (all very spooky) – but also because of the crossroads, the turning points, the first loves and all of the feelings that go with that and growing up.

A beautifully written book, by an author who truly understands the processes of all human emotions. It broke my reading slump and filled my heart with joy – I was utterly devastated to read the final page and find there was no more left to read! Thankyou, Mr Nicholls.

‘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.

‘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!

Image result for polar express book

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!

Image result for the grinch 2018

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…

Image result for muppet christmas carol

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!

*

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