I received a copy of this audiobook from Hachette Audio UK Orion via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This story is perfect for an audiobook listen. The narrator is professional and believably voices the characters. The story is simple, and the characters are authentic and relatable. The combination of characters, plot and setting are what makes this heartwarming.
Told mainly from Annie and Wanda’s point of view the story begins with the fire that destroyed more than buildings fifteen years ago. It altered the village and the lives of Annie Lew and Wanda. The story follows their current lives which are full of angst, guilt and regret with some well-placed humorous touches.
The life experiences are realistic and draw the listener into the story. The final chapters are uplifting and the ending romantic.
I received a copy of this book from Harper Collins UK – One More Chapter via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Travel blogger Fiona wins a trip to Japan to take photographs and be mentored by a professional photographer. Sounds good, except that arrogant talented Gabe is someone from her past. She’s still attracted but won’t risk making a fool of herself again. Fiona has confidence issues about her appearance and her talents, but she takes a risk because she loves new experiences and wants to enjoy everything about her trip.
Gabe is jaded with life and love, Fiona’s enthusiasm and naivety grates initially until she makes him see things differently. The road to romance is conflicted as a former lover doesn’t want to let go. Gabe’s blinkered attitude is annoying and threatens his happiness with Fiona.
This is a journey of self-discovery for Fiona, as she grows into her true self, she is less accommodating and grows in confidence.
The Japanese setting and traditions are integral to the story and make this something special.
The romance is gentle and the ending positive and uplifting.
Jules Wake announced at the age of ten that she planned to be a writer. Along the way she was diverted by the glamorous world of PR and worked on many luxury brands, taking journalists on press trips to awful places like Turin, Milan, Geneva, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and occasionally losing the odd member of the press in an airport. This proved fabulous training for writing novels as it provided her with the opportunity to eat amazing food, drink free alcohol, hone her writing skills on press releases and to research European cities for her books.
She writes best-selling warm-hearted contemporary fiction for One More Chapter.
Under her pen name, Julie Caplin, her thirteenth novel, The Little Teashop in Tokyo will be published in ebook and paperback this June.
Giacomo is stuck in a funk he can’t shake – and a translation he can’t finish. When he’s summoned home to Sardinia, to say a final goodbye to his dying grandmother, he’s offered the perfect opportunity to escape.
On the noisy, sun-drenched island, Giacomo reconnects with long-lost friends and overbearing relatives, relives the childhood he once couldn’t wait to leave behind, and rediscovers new joie-de-vivre within him. Never mind that he’s making no progress on his translation. . .
When the time comes to leave once more, Giacomo wonders: has he fallen back in love with his home-island? Or has he been hiding from something which he needs the courage to return and confront?
But most importantly – is his grandma really as ill as she’s claiming to be?
I received a copy of this book from Hodder and Stoughton via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This story has an autobiographical quality about it. Giacomo is a translator returning to his home village in Sardinia when his grandmother falls ill. The remote village setting and the quirky characters that live there, give this story its humour, intrinsic interest and poignancy.
Giacomo is at a crossroads in his life. He uses his time in the village, to come to terms with this and make sense of his existence. There are memories revisited and acquaintances renewed, which create a web of anecdotes and experiences rather than a linear plotted story.
There are literary references and insight into the life of translator which Giacomo equates with his status, the ‘nearly’ man. It’s not a commercial book. It is an insight into an ordinary man’s life in a unique place, fascinating but not always relatable.
Three women. One summer reunion. Secrets will be revealed…
Villa Dolce Vita, a rambling stone house on the Amalfi Coast, sits high above the Gulf of Naples amidst dappled lemon groves and the fragrant, tumbling bougainvillea. Kim, Colette and Annie all came to the villa in need of escape and in the process forged an unlikely friendship.
Now, years later, Kim has transformed the crumbling house into a luxury retreat and has invited her friends back for the summer to celebrate.
But as friendships are rekindled under the Italian sun, secrets buried in the past will come to light, and not everyone is happy that the three friends are reuniting… Each woman will have things to face up to if they are all to find true happiness and fully embrace the sweet life.
An epic summer read about food, friendship and the magic of Italy.
I received a copy of this book from Mills and Boon HQ in return for an honest review.
The bright sunny cover reflects the perfect summer escapism this novel provides. A story of angst friendship and secrets plays out over two-time frames. Despite their different background and lives, a lifelong friendship is formed at the Villa Dolce Vita in Italy between three women.
The Italian location is vibrant and the perfect contrast to the deceit and secrets. Complex, flawed protagonists draw the reader into their stories. The plot has surprises, and it’s pace intensifies, as it reveals its secrets.
Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick, although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone. She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’). Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway . . . And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies. But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this. She is going on an intrepid journey – to save the penguins.
I received a copy of this book from Transworld Publishers in return for an honest review.
I was drawn to this book initially because my son has always loved penguins. This story has so much to recommend it.
The star of the show is, Veronica McCreedy, a virtual recluse, who feels at 85 years she still hasn’t made her mark on the world and has lots to offer. She dislikes how she looks because inside she is vibrant and young. Her life is steeped in tragedy, which has contributed to her current reclusive state.
Patrick is at a particularly low ebb in his life, and he becomes introverted and prickly with others. The story unfolds from Veronica and Patrick’s viewpoints, as they get to know each other. Through journals, we learn of Veronica’s past life and find it has some similarities with Patrick’s. Then there is a great adventure, which proves more significant than the geographical miles travelled.
The characters are believable and for the most part lovely. Everyone has their flaws but its this humanity that makes them relatable. Veronica’s relationship with Patrick and the people she encounters on her journey of self-discovery are humorous, poignant and uplifting.
The plot flows and the storytelling is engaging. The conservation message is implicit in Veronica’s quest for the penguins, Like so much in life, Veronica’s life is enriched as she works tirelessly in helping the penguins and Patrick. This is an original, story which entertains, informs and motivates, It gives hope to those of us, firmly on the wrong side of fifty, that we are still important, and can make a difference.
HAZEL PRIOR lives on Exmoor. . As well as writing, she works as a freelance harpist.
AN INTERVIEW WITH HAZEL PRIOR
VERONICA MCCREEDY, MY AGING HEROINE
Veronica McCreedy is eighty-six when she has her adventure with the penguins. Why did I want an old woman for my main character? I have some way to go before I reach her age, but, as I gather wrinkles, I find myself often reflecting about the pros and cons of ageing. Our society still seems to lead us to believe that it’s better in every way to be young. It would have us think that at 30 the best part of your life is over, at 40 nobody notices you anymore and from 50 onwards you may as well not exist – particularly if you’re a woman. The vast majority of novels seem to echo this view, with the protagonists finding fulfilment/tragedy/ happy-ever-after while still in their twenties. This is so wrong.
We develop at different rates, but I suspect a person is never fully-formed. We are in a state of evolution throughout our lives. This evolution isn’t a steady process, but stagnates sometimes and then goes in spurts, depending on events and our reactions to them. I admire people who are hungry for life, who go out and seek new experiences regardless of their age. For example, a friend of mine started learning the harp at the age of ninety. And my neighbour’s father took up skydiving in his eighties. These are extreme examples, but we never stop dreaming, learning or having new adventures. Every year that passes adds to our rich bank of experiences, our store of stories. The logical conclusion is that the older you are, the more interesting you are – so wouldn’t an octogenarian be the perfect heroine?
VERONICA PAST AND PRESENT
I’m very aware that we all judge by appearances, and the first thing you’d notice about Veronica McCreedy if you met her might be her age. But I wanted to show her as a complete person; I wanted to make the reader review this initial impression. We get to see her as a young girl, too, and gradually some of the elements that have shaped her come to light. These days she has slipped into certain habits: tea-drinking, litter-picking and dishing out scorn, but there is much, much more to her than this. Look inside the dry old lady exterior and you will find a vitality and strength to rival that of many young people. And she cares deeply about things, much more than she’s prepared to let on.
Veronica’s advanced years also gave me the opportunity to explore wartime Britain. That time interests me particularly because my parents were alive then. My father was in the RAF. My mother – who would have been contemporary with Veronica – was a teenager, and her entire school was relocated to a country mansion in the north of England. (That’s where the similarity ends though!) As I researched, I became drawn into this poignant time in our history. There is something very nostalgic about an era without computers, traffic and smartphones, but at the same time, the whole population was living on a knife-edge. It seems that life was lived with added intensity on every level, people grasping whatever joy they could because the future was always in question. The moral values were completely different as well (oh, the shame of having a baby when you weren’t married! The double-shame of sleeping with the enemy!). So much food for thought…
The cruel side of getting old is, of course, the physical deterioration. Veronica is very conscious of this because as a girl she was exceptionally attractive. Her beauty brought her the benefits of (briefly) requited love and (eventually) a millionaire lifestyle, yet it also led her to shame and utter degradation. She misses her beauty, though. These days wealth has replaced it as her means of getting what she wants. It takes her a long time to realise that she doesn’t need to be so manipulative. There is another pathway to happiness if only she can learn to accept genuine human kindness.
Although Veronica is now robust for her years she’s deeply frustrated by the ageing process. Her body has become an encumbrance that won’t work as well as she wants it to and she hates the fact that she now has to operate within this unreliable vehicle. In a way, however, her body’s failings also serve her because she is eager to contradict naysayers and prove what she can do. She pushes herself to her limits. When her body nearly gives out, her spirit fights on. I believe this is the stuff of true heroism.
What Veronica’s experiences have given her – along with certain prejudices and a fear of forming close relationships – is resilience. This resilience is perhaps one of the reasons she’s so drawn to penguins.
Like Veronica, penguins are feisty and stubborn. They defy harsh conditions and refuse to be beaten. But, unlike Veronica, they communicate and cooperate. They live in a vast community and do everything together. Ever since Veronica’s teenage tragedies, she has remained closed to human contact (reflected by her obsession with keeping doors closed). As she witnesses the penguins’ mutual support system, Veronica begins to realise what has been lacking in her own life. Penguins are the perfect teachers for her.
I also wanted to write about penguins because:
• They are funny.
• They are very relatable. Let’s face it, they do look a bit like miniature humans and they act like us in many ways too.
• Adélies live in Antarctica – pretty powerful for a setting.
• I was inspired by my friend, Ursula, who made it her mission to tour the world taking photos of penguins after her husband died.
PANIC ABOUT THE PLANET
My job as a writer is to tell a good story and entertain people, not to preach. But I do like to deal with serious issues, wrap them up in a bit of fun and maybe provoke a thought or two. To the perceptive reader, my own values will doubtless show through. You can hardly miss the fact that I love wildlife and care deeply about it. So I’m bound to be worried…
I’m not a fan of doom-mongering, but it strikes me that our current environmental crisis can’t be ignored. There are many strands of thought here, and powerful feelings, too. Even though I, with my carbon footprint, am partly to blame, I am dismayed that lots of my favourite animals are hurtling towards extinction. A world without tigers, polar bears, gorillas, elephants, snow leopards… and of course, penguins? I’m mentally screaming at the mere idea. I don’t have any children but to leave such a legacy is surely a terrible abuse, both of the animals themselves and the next generation of humans.
We tend to treat wildlife as if it exists solely to serve our own purposes. It doesn’t. As Jackie Morris, illustrator of The Lost Words, states ‘We are not ‘stewards’ of the natural world, we are not something that stands apart from it. We are a very small part of an amazing ecosystem. The Earth is our home, but it is also the home to so many forms of life, life that is so astonishing, intelligence that puts our arrogance to shame’.
It’s not clever to destroy our own habitat. The effects of global warming have been well-documented. In addition to mass extinction, there are devastating consequences for humans: Floods, wildfires, malnutrition, disease… the list goes on and on. Scientists say we are horribly close to the point of no return, and if we don’t change our ways the planet will sooner or later become uninhabitable for us too. All this is now old news, but I just want to stress that this isn’t a bandwagon thing for me. In fact, I wrote my novel’s first draft before anyone had seen the David Attenborough programme or heard of Greta Thunberg. The publication of AWAY WITH THE PENGUINS is timely, though, and I’m glad that my quirky Antarctic story adds another small voice to the clamour for change.
Action is need on a vast scale and movements across the world are pushing politicians and businesses to act more responsibly regarding the future of the planet. But I think the little things matter, too. In my novel, Veronica spends her energy-saving a single penguin chick. To me, that is valid. We experience life as individuals and each individual is important, whether animal or human. I recently saw a photo of a baby turtle next to a hundred pieces of plastic that were found in its stomach. The shocking image was a reminder that everything we do has its consequences.
In my household we do our best in terms of everyday lifestyle. We grow our own beans, courgettes, potatoes etc; we spurn pesticides and slug pellets. We have a hybrid car and I can’t even remember the last time I got on a plane. I indulge in a rant whenever I see the words ‘packaging not currently recyclable’ and seek out some alternative on the supermarket shelves. I even use a bamboo toothbrush. Still, we often have that “If we’re doing it but nobody else bothers, what’s the point?” conversation. Then I think of the turtle. Yes, every little helps… And in fact more and more people are bothering. And if enough people bother, there’s hope.
In AWAY WITH THE PENGUINS I’ve hinted at a parallel situation. Wartime forced people into drastic action. During a national emergency, they managed to cooperate on a heart-warmingly huge scale. Women suddenly started working in all sectors. People dug up their gardens to grow food, they re-used everything, they used their initiative as never before. They gathered all their strength and kept on trying despite the odds stacked against them. Now that we have an international crisis that threatens life itself, perhaps we can finally get our act together?”
Roxy plays polo… but dreams of love. Forty-one-year-old polo player Roxy arrives in Argentina with a to-do list that includes healing from a polo injury and falling in love with a handsome Argentine. From polo boots to tango shoes, the adrenaline of riding horses to glamorous after-game parties, Roxy learns to navigate this unfamiliar landscape with the help of new friends who teach her to take life as it comes. But will she find true love? Over three months in Buenos Aires, nothing goes according to plan, and yet, all the items on her list mysteriously get ticked off in the end. Just not the way she had imagined.
Fans of the Bridget Jones series will love the blend of humour, travel, and romantic comedy at the heart of Single in Buenos Aires, all topped off with the unforgettable flavour of life in one of the most sensual and passionate cities in the world.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
An independent woman travels to Argentina, to experience everything it has to offer. A devotee of polo, she wants to recover from a sports injury to play again, whilst meeting her soulmate. She has a to-do list and sets about completing it in a forthright way, but life is never simple as she finds out.
Written in the form of a journal, this story’s originality wars with being repetitive. There are lots of references to Argentina’s culture, landscape, city and way of life, which are fascinating, but the protagonist lacks depth, despite spilling her thoughts into her journal, and is hard to empathise.
As a holiday read, and an informative guide on all things Argentinian, including their obsession and proficiency with polo, it is interesting.
Roxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.
As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate World is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–travelling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.
Roxana lives with her husband in Mallorca, Spain, where she writes, coaches, and does energy therapies, but her first passion remains writing.
The Light of Love pours down on Frilly. It shines so brightly that she quails and runs away. Upset with herself for feeling scared, she wakes her good friend Mawson and pours out her confusions. She wants to learn how to be bold and is convinced that she can do this by going on a quest. With muddled help from Mawson, she sets off into the great Out There. But is a quest to find oneself really the answer?
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
When I agreed to review this story, I thought it was a children’s picture book, although I did wonder at the title, which seemed an odd one for a child’s story. I enjoyed the themes considered, and the emotion conveyed but thought it was in many ways more appropriate to adults, or older children. Then, looking at the card that accompanied the book, I realised it is intended for adults or grownups.
The second in this series of picture books for grownups, it reads as a standalone. It explores the concept of, who you are, and of being true to yourself. Frilly Bear is scared by the idea of love because she doesn’t understand it. She is awed by the power it has over her. Frilly feels she doesn’t know who Frilly Bear is. Her physical quest to find herself is eventful, but not entirely productive. Frilly finds sharing her fears, and thoughts, with a sympathetic bear Mawson, far more rewarding. Acceptance of herself brings contentment.
The book uses charming and engaging photographs of Frilly, Mawson and friends to illustrate the story’s message. The text is simple, sometimes headings, or rhyming phrases. It complements the images and illustrates the quandary Frilly experiences, and the self-realisation she achieves.
Rather like a colouring book for adults, this book invites you to escape and explore adult issues in a blue sky childhood way of thinking. It is original, and refreshing, with a wide target audience.
Mawson, a big-hearted, soul searching teddy bear, is here to help. He is one of this bright world’s few Writer-Bears. He speaks about Being One’s Best in a world that is often baffling – and not only for bears. He is often muddled about things (well, he is a bear). But he is always confident that things are going to turn out All Right.
Marjorie, Stacy, Raymond and Dora each hold a different story to their chest – lost loves abandoned dreams, crippling self-confidence issues, and simply feeling invisible. For each of them, the thought of letting those stories out is almost as terrifying as letting strangers in, and that makes for a very lonely life indeed.
But when these four strangers who have struggled to “fit in” end up on the same table for an event at their local community centre, little do they know that their lives are about to be entwined and changed forever because of an Afternoon Tea club.
Cue an unexpected journey of self-discovery, some unlikely new companions, and plenty of tea and biscuits along the way…
Heart-warming and poignant in equal measure, this is a story about loneliness, kindness, and the power of friendships that span generation, proving that the most simple of human connections unite us all
I received a copy of this book from Avon Books UK via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A contemporary story that deals with the invisibility and loneliness of being older.
The story begins with a gathering of individuals from the community, mostly, but not exclusively older. Most do not want to be there, but gradually realise that it may add something to their lives. The story has lots of characters and perhaps would benefit from a character list at the beginning.
This a gentle story, where the characters earlier lives are explored, so that the reader knows how they came to be in the situation they find themselves in. The story charts laughter, sadness, and an unmistakable camaraderie between its characters. It is diverse and reflects how an increasingly significant portion of the population feel about their lives.
Older people often feel surplus to requirements and invisible, and this story reflects this well but gives hope that with a little understanding and courage, life can be fun and worthwhile at any age.
Popular lifestyle blogger, Libby Cartwright, is being boggled by business when help shows up in the shape of gorgeous but shy, Charlie Richmond. Libby’s determined to keep it at ‘just good friends’ – she’s dated someone from ‘Corporate Land’ before and it didn’t end well. As she and Charlie begin spending more time together, Libby is starting to waver – until she discovers something which makes her question if she’s ready for love.
Still reeling, she suffers another blow as her blog is attacked in a national newspaper, for promoting unachievable perfection. Libby knows it’s not true – but the only way to prove that is to strip off the armour she’s been wearing for years.
Is she brave enough to show the world she’s far from perfect? And will Charlie be by her side if she does…
‘That’s it! I am totally going to
jail. I’m going to get it wrong, owe thousands, not be able to pay, and go to
jail!’ I flung myself backwards with an overly dramatic sigh and lay sprawled
on the paperwork I had been looking at. ‘And seriously? Me in an orange
jumpsuit? I don’t care how on trend they are; I could never pull that off!
Orange is so not my colour.’
Amy topped up her wine glass before reaching a hand down to
grab my arm, tugging me in the direction of the sofa. I slid along the floor
for a few moments in my prone position, like some sort of beached, four-legged
starfish, until I eventually bumped into the furniture.
‘I think that’s more America, hon,’ she said, yanking me
upwards. ‘I’m not sure what ours are like. Something much more subtle, I
expect. And don’t worry. I’ll hide a file inside the first cake I bring you.
You’ll be out in no time.’
I paused in my clambering from the floor onto the sofa, and
gave her a look. She made a sawing motion with one hand, accompanied by an
over-exaggerated wink as she held out my wine glass. Flopping onto the couch, I
took the glass and swigged a large mouthful, before laying my head back onto
the soft cushions.
‘Seriously though. I really don’t know what I’m doing with
this. I thought I was handling all this business stuff OK until now.’
‘And you are!’ Amy interjected. ‘Your blog is doing
amazingly well! I can’t believe the difference in a year – it’s incredible!
Seriously, Libs, you should really be proud of yourself.’
I sighed. ‘Thanks, Ames. And I am, and of Tilly. I couldn’t
have done it without her. But I’m so frustrated! I’ve taken on this insane
learning curve and, for the most part, got the hang of things. I think. But
this?’ I kicked a piece of paper with my bare toes. ‘This, I just cannot get my
head round! Why does tax have to be so bloody complicated? They send you this
stuff so that you are supposedly able to do it yourself, but write it in the
most confusing language possible! How is that even remotely helpful?’
Amy just shook her head and took another sip of wine.
‘So, what are you going to do?’
‘I don’t know. I guess I need to start looking for an
accountant.’ I twiddled the wine glass stem in my hand.
Amy leant over and bumped her head gently on my shoulder.
‘You know; it is OK to ask people for help sometimes. We can’t all be amazing
at everything. Creating all this in such a short space of time is brilliant,
Libby. Finding that you need some extra expertise in one area is perfectly
acceptable, and perfectly normal.’
‘I guess.’ I put the glass down. ‘Before I forget, I have
something for you.’
Immediately, Amy sat up straighter in anticipation and her
eyes watched me as I crossed to the other side of the room and picked up a
small, but fancy, cardboard bag with intricately twisted rope handles and a
swirly script logo on the side. Walking back over to the sofa, I plopped the
bag down on Amy’s lap.
‘Did I ever tell you that going for it with this lifestyle
blog business is the best thing that you’ve ever done?’
I laughed. ‘You just like the freebies.’
‘True,’ Amy agreed, before letting out an ‘ooh’ of pleasure
at the eyeshadow palette and perfume she’d just pulled out of the bag.
‘But thanks anyway.’
time. Oh!’ Amy’s eyes shone like those of a child who’d just won pass the
parcel. ‘Really? I can have this?’ Without waiting for confirmation, Amy began
excitedly spritzing the exclusive new perfume copiously on pretty much every
pulse point she could reach, including mine.
I lifted my wrist up to take another waft of the fragrance. It really was
gorgeous. I smiled as my friend rummaged in the bag, unwrapping the various
goodies from their pretty tissue-paper packaging. The cosmetic companies often
sent more samples than I could possibly use so I always made sure my assistant got
some to review and regularly ran giveaways on the blog, as a thank you to my
readers. But occasionally I still had extra goodies left over. Amy always loved
a good freebie so when I had something spare, it meant I got to make my best
As the fumes of Amy’s fragrance enthusiasm began getting a
little pungent, I pushed myself up and padded over to the doors that led out
onto the balcony. Grabbing the handle, I slid the door to the side.
Immediately, a warm breeze rushed in from the sea, dissipating the perfume, and
bringing with it the screech of seagulls intertwined with chatter and laughter
from the nearby bars and restaurants in the marina. I stepped out, grabbing a
wide-brimmed, slightly battered straw hat off the nearby console table, and took
a seat on one of the two wooden steamer chairs that resided on my balcony. Amy
followed me out, wine glass in hand, the gift bag now swinging off her wrist.
If I was honest, the furniture was a squeeze and a trendy
little bistro set would have been a better, more sensible option. I’d made the
classic mistake of ‘guesstimating’ that they would fit perfectly on the
balcony. They didn’t and I’d ended up building them in situ like some sort of
furniture Jenga, which had proved to be the only way of getting them both to
fit on there. But I loved them. I didn’t want a trendy little bistro set. The
loungers were super comfy with full-length padded cushions, and reclined just
enough without touching the glass. I could sit out here and read in comfort,
watching the boats sway and bob gently in the marina, listening as the sound of
waves bumping against the harbour wall carried across the water. Even in
winter, when the wind howled and the sea reared up before crashing down
forcefully onto the nearby beach, I would happily sit out here, wrapped up
against the cold, just absorbing it all.
There was definitely no need for coats and scarves this
evening. It seemed that spring had decisively handed off the baton early to
summer and the new season was away and running. The evening was warm and the
breeze soft as Amy and I, now having inelegantly climbed onto our respective
loungers, sat back and sighed happily.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A lovely, slow to ignite friends to lovers and opposites attract romance, in a contemporary setting. Libby is a lifestyle blogger, whose popularity is now making her serious money. Worried about tax issues she eagerly accepts Charle, a friend of a friend’s offer to look over her accounts, She is accident-prone, bubbly and creative, the antithesis of Charlie who is climbing up the corporate ladder and is introverted,
Mutual attraction, proximity. and an unanswered need for someone special in their lives draws the couple together. Firstly into friendship and after much ado, romance. Both are reticent about commitment and their self-worth making them more alike than they first appear.
Libby experiences some of the negative aspects of celebrity status and social media and wants to prove that her blog is a true reflection of her and not a facsimile. Doing this is risky both from a business point of view and personally, and she wonders if people will like the true Libby, with #NoFilter.
This story has a likeable rom-com element and complex realistic protagonists. The romance is very slow-paced. which some will find frustrating.
There is also a message about the power of social media, and how it affects those who live their lives on it. There is a significant move away now, from unrealistic and negative media portrayals of self-image, especially for the young. Maybe its time for us to be more circumspect about what we share of our lives, and not try and constantly strive for an unrealistic ideal, that is probably not even real anyway?
A gently romantic, thought-provoking read.
Guest Post – Inspiration for #No Filter – Maxine Morrey
I wasn’t an early embracer of the whole social media scene. I joined Twitter to see what it was about but didn’t really use it, barely going on it. Facebook had never had any appeal for me, but writing full time meant having a ‘business’ presence on there was kind of required.
Instagram, however, was a different matter for me.
As a photography fan, this platform appealed as a place to share and view
interesting pictures, and perhaps connect with others who shared similar interests.
It still took me a while, joining four years after its launch. But it was really
about the opportunity to practice photography skills and share them. I wasn’t
bothered about the Like count. It was just fun. And I think this was true of a
lot of users at this time. That was the point – just having fun.
But somewhere along the line, things seem to have become a bit skewed. And there are times when it’s not fun at all– in fact, it’s the very opposite. Some users are experiencing a lack of self-worth, jealousy, violence, self-harm and heartbreakingly, even suicide. It was actually this side of things that gave me the inspiration for the book that would become #NoFilter.
Bearing in mind I write romcoms, I can see that this isn’t exactly what people would call a perfect match. But this is what many people miss about the romance genre – especially the critics, the majority of whom have never even dipped a toe into the scene before dismissing it as unworthy of their, or anyone else’s attention. Many romcoms and romances tackle subjects which are quite serious, but they do it in a way that makes it accessible, and relatable. Yes, my books have a non-negotiable happy ending but that doesn’t mean the characters have led Pollyanna lifestyles. There’s more to these books than meet the eye if people bother to look.
The spark for #NoFilter was reading a report about the increase in reports of self-harm since the advent of social media, and how the growth of the two correlated. This was both shocking and saddening. We’ve all heard of cyberbullying and trolling and how intrusive that can be, especially to school-age children. Once our home was a sanctuary away from the school bullies. Now, unless you’re offline entirely – something that seems almost impossible, if not anathema to a generation who were practically born with a mobile phone in their hand – it’s very hard to get away from.
But it’s not just others who bully. And you certainly don’t have to be of school age to be a victim. Sometimes the biggest bully is the one inside our head, and unfortunately, social media, especially the image focused channels have only given these more power. These problems are not exclusively female either. Men are certainly not immune to doubting their self-worth, but there has always been an added pressure on women when it comes to how they present themselves and how others perceive them.
Once it was the glossy magazines being berated for presenting aspirational images impossible to actually achieve. Not because there aren’t women just as stylish, intelligent and beautiful out there. But because the images laid in front of us weren’t genuine. The real person- a model, a woman already been singled out for her aesthetically pleasing appearance – has been made up, dressed and photographed in the most flattering way possible. And then begins hours of photo editing. In some cases, four or five different women are amalgamated to make one ‘perfect’ one. No wonder we feel like we’re not good enough – the image we’re aspiring to sometimes isn’t even one person! Even children aren’t immune from the photo editing suite – what sort of message that sends, I hate to contemplate.
So, battling against these perfect images on the
newsstand was bad enough but in the back of our minds, many of us knew these
were tweaked and toned and literally, perfected. But somehow, when it comes to
social media, we seem to forget. All of a sudden there are these ‘normal’ women
– not movie stars, or models – just regular women looking absolutely flawless.
And that seems a lot more real than the glossy magazines. Which is a lot more
The truth is a vast majority of the images on Instagram are not real. They’re just as fake as the magazines. The amount of photo editing apps available is staggering, with an enormous number dedicated specifically to selfies. It’s basically plastic surgery for your photograph and it can get addictive. When selfies are continuously filtered and edited, they are a representation of that person – but most certainly not that person. However, as we scroll through, seeing one perfect face and body after another, that logic doesn’t always make it through and instead, our own self-worth takes a mental pounding. That’s the danger and it’s only getting worse.
Social media is not a bad thing. It’s supposed to be
fun, and it can be. It can also be supportive. Being a writer is a very
solitary job, but social media has enabled me to be in contact with others in
the same position and being able to gain and give support via these platforms
is brilliant. The same goes for hobbies – you might not know anyone in your
‘real’ life that finds the same things as you interesting but social media
enables you to find a community and I know people who have made long and strong
friendships via it. It’s not evil. But it does need to be used with caution.
No one is perfect. But you are perfect as you are. If there’s anything that’s making you doubt that, then it may be time to do a bit of detoxing. Accounts that make you question your self-worth need to go. Press that unfollow and feel the pressure lift. Find the next one and do the same, and the next.
Replace these accounts with others that don’t adhere
to the editing obsession and instead bring you joy. They’re just as interesting
and encourage a world and a belief that is far, far more
Maxine Morrey is a bestselling romantic comedy author with eight books to her name including Winter’s Fairytale and the top ten hit The Christmas Project. She lives in West Sussex. Her first novel for Boldwood, #No Filter, will be published in November 2019.
GRACIE PORTER’S LIFE IS IN A TANGLE. HER TELEVISION COOKERY SHOW IS FLAILING AND HER BOYFRIEND’S AFFECTIONS ARE WANING. IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE…
friend Faith rescues her place on the small screen when she unwittingly lands
them both starring roles in a steamy spin-off that becomes an instant hit. The
new show is more about relationships, sex and stonking big vegetables than
in a fluctuating crush on her surprisingly irresistible agent, Harry Hipgrave,
an unlikely friendship with a pair of D-list models and a gossip journalist
intent on making her life miserable, Grace wonders if becoming famous is all
it’s cracked up to be?
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Definitely a story for lovers of celebrity and reality TV.
‘Look at me Now’, follows Gracie’s exploits as a celebrity chef on day time television, new owners and a tired show mean either change or unemployment. Gracie and Faith come up with a topical slant to make the show a twenty-first-century hit. What happens next pushes Gracie, who is a typical rom-com heroine, likeable and naive, well out of her comfort zone. Can she do it? Well, you’ll have to read it and see.
There is genuine humour in this story, plenty of romantic and work-based angst and conflict, and a gentle romance. The cast of characters are vividly written, and most avoid becoming stereotypical. The writing style is inclusive and informal and makes this an easy, escapist read. Short chapters keep it well-paced.
If you like a romantic comedy with a contemporary twist, this is an enjoyable read.
Extract from – Look At Me Now – Simone Goodman
‘Oops!’ Rushing into the television
station where I work, escaping the demonic gale that’s sweeping across London
this morning, I slide delicately across the wet tiles inside the entrance.
I say delicately. But it’s more hope that I look like an
accomplished ice skater as I clumsily regain my balance. Being a healthy size
14 – I don’t consider myself fat, I’m just not reed thin – there’s a risk I’ve
come off more like a comedian on a banana skin. Thankfully, no one other than Mitzi,
our receptionist, is here to hold me accountable.
‘Golly, Gracie, are you okay?’ Mitzi calls from across the
foyer, where she’s sitting behind the front desk, most likely reading a script.
‘I’m okay, Mitzi.’ By all accounts, my near miss looked
distinctly less than elegant. Laughing, I steady myself on the death-tiles. It
could have been worse. I could have toppled right over my own feet.
It’s only a short few hundred metres dash from Oxford Circus
Tube station to my workplace, our studios located in a narrow but deceptively
cavernous Georgian building on Soho Square. My umbrella blowing inside-out
against the pelting rain and wind this morning, I covered the distance as
quickly as possible. My dash best described as a nippy jog, it’s the most
exercise I’ve done in months. It’s early January, the time for New Year
resolutions. Possibly, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for me to consider joining
‘I’ve been warning someone will break their bones on those
tiles,’ Mitzi says.
‘We could do with a non-slip mat here,’ I agree.
‘We could do with a lot of things around here,’ Mitzi sighs.
She reminds me of Daisy Lowe, the model. Dark hair. Doe
eyes. Cherry-red lips. Though her role is to welcome visitors, Mitzi looks the
part for television. Like many people who work here, she yearns to be in front
of the camera.
I have my own show. But it troubles me, more and more
lately, that I don’t look like I belong. This isn’t to say I don’t have my
finer points. Pragmatically speaking, we all do. What can I tell you? My eyes
are sometimes so blue as to appear violet. Almond-shaped, they’re generously
framed with oodles of long, thick lashes. My dark locks cascade to below my
shoulders and, at thirty-three years of age, I’ve not got a single grey hair on
my head. My complexion is creamy, free of lines and, generally, spots. But
before you picture me as some uber-glamourous cross between a young Elizabeth
Taylor and a brunette Katy Perry, bear in mind I’m the more robustly packaged
(sometimes size 14 plus) version. Some days, I fear I’m veering more into the
territory of a Dawn French and Melissa McCarthy lovechild – without their
comedy vehicles for kicks. But surely no one likes a thin chef?
I host my own daily cookery show, Gracie Porter’s Gourmet
The title is a bit of a misnomer.
It’s impossible to prepare gourmet meals, haute cuisine of several
aesthetically balanced and rich courses of food, within a short thirty minutes
allotment of air time. Notwithstanding that with preparation of the set, the ingredients
and me, it takes almost a full day to pre-record every show that then airs
across the whole of England, Scotland and Wales at 10.30 a.m. the following
week. Also, there isn’t much ‘getting together’ with my format. I like to think
I’m always engaging with my audience as they tune in to connect with me from
the comforts of their own homes, but the original concept had me hosting the
occasional special guest: other chefs, celebrities and perhaps the more
interesting politician. With none of us, including my producer, Robin, moving
in celebrity circles, with Westminster MPs otherwise occupied with their
scandals, solicitations and squabbling and me reasoning that any chef who wants
to be on television would surely want their own show, we failed to deliver.
When no one pushed us, we let it slide. We don’t even have a live audience.
It’s pretty much me and the crew who chow down after a recording finishes. On
this basis, my cookery show has aired daily for almost a year and a half.
Previously, I worked as a normal chef. I prepared
mouth-watering meals in lovely places where people came to eat. When it comes
to food, I’m a consummate professional. As far as television goes, I’m still
cutting my teeth.
From the beginning, both investment and expectation of our
little cookery show has been low. Being at the bottom end of a long list of hot
shows and hotter stars left me below the radar – and this has suited me fine.
Things changed late last year after Titan Media, the US entertainment giant,
acquired a large chunk of our relatively tiny UK operations. This afternoon, at
3 p.m., I have a meeting with the American executives who now run things to
discuss my ‘future services to the company’. It hasn’t escaped me that not
everyone summoned to such meetings returned from their New Year breaks. People
have been literally disappearing from the studios in droves. And I know my
ratings aren’t the best.
I don’t disagree with Mitzi that things around here could be
better. However, today is a day for putting the best, most confident and upbeat
version of me forward.
‘I’m sure things will settle down and everything will be
fine again soon,’ I assure her. I put my wet umbrella inside a cotton shopping
Behind me, the front doors burst open. I turn to look.
Shadowing the doorway, wearing her long, spectral black-hooded cape, stands
Zelda the Magnificent, our resident daytime television psychic.
‘Gracie,’ Zelda declares on seeing me. ‘Dahling.’ Her voice
is deep and melodic. Her accent is old Budapest enchantment. She’s like a
darker, earthier Zsa Zsa Gabor. ‘Please, stop for Zelda,’ she implores in her
dulcet tones. ‘I have, for you, a vision.’
Simone’s Bio – Simone Goodman is CFO at one of the fastest-growing tech companies in Europe. She is Australian and lives in London with her daughter and her two cats. Look At Me Now is her debut romantic comedy and will be published in November 2019.