Imagine being just 10 years old when your mum walks out the door and is never heard of again. Imagine having a life full of more downs than ups. Imagine finally getting your life on track and having gentle waters to navigate when thirty years later there’s an unexpected knock at the door and it’s your mother.
This is exactly what happens to Beth in The Happy Family. Only Beth brings her mother in to her life a lot quicker than I would, and while her mother lives with her, friends start to slowly become more and more distant, nasty and dark rumours run a wild course and odd things begin to happen in Beth’s life.
Beth seems to be a major soft touch as she lets her ex walk all over her and treat her terribly, her poor children bear witness to it. And once her mother is back in her life, Beth suddenly becomes more forgetful yet “super mum” is on hand at the drop of the hat to come to the rescue and find lost items. It’s highly suspicious and full of twists and turns and dark secrets about the past.
I know a lot of people have had mixed reviews with a few readers feeling like Kabler hasn’t kept to her usual high standard of story telling, but this being the first of her titles I have read means I had a clean slate, so to speak, with no specific expectations. I actually enjoyed it though! A few times I wanted to shake Beth and tell her to toughen up and put her foot down as well as give her dear mum a slap BUT the narrative was good and I enjoyed it! I’m eager to read more of Kabler’s titles in the future!
Jackie Kabler spent over half a dozen years as a GMTV news reporter covering large scale news such as the Madeline McCann disappearance, President Clinton’s impeachment trial, the Asian tsunami, the Kosovo crisis, famine in Ethiopia, the Athens Olympics, and the Soham murders. 2008 saw Jackie leave GMTV to become a freelance reporter and worked as a media trainer and in media simulation – in particular with the armed forces – and produced, wrote and presented corporate and promotional films. January 2013 saw Jackie joining the UK’s biggest shopping channel, QVC, as a presenter.
In 2015 Kabler published the first instalments the Cora Baxter Mysteries, a series of humorous murder mysteries set in a television room, and of psychological thrillers Am I Guilty? and The Perfect Couple after releasing
As you may remember, I read Martin-Sommers’ previous book, Gordon Square, not so long ago which introduced the readers to the dynamic duo of Mike and Mel, the most perfectly imperfect couple of investigators you could ever wish to read about. I loved the first book and I loved the second book! So much so, that I spent most of my time reading it pestering Tracey about the plot! I couldn’t get enough!
I don’t know where to start at all! This is a follow on of the story of the Gordon Girls and we see where they are a few years down the line and there are many developments! Mike and Mel are now Mr and Mrs as well as Mum and Dad! And the twists and turns are literally immense! And the cliff hanger has been well set up for a third instalment which I cannot wait for!
With the previous book, I did mention in my review that there were some grammatical errors which have appeared again in the second instalment, and the time-leap isn’t all that obvious so I did have to read a certain section three times to picture abs understand where it was the reader was meant to be, and a clear cut but confusing error on the same few pages, but I still enjoyed it a lot and was able to overlook these to enjoy the plot over all. I loved Mike and Mel’s development and their latest venture in to parenthood and a new neighbourhood as well and can’t wait to see how they develop further now they’re both back at work!
Born in Harrow Weald, Middlesex in 1964, growing up in a loving family home, Tracy married her first husband in 1990, has two grown-up children and a granddaughter. She studied a variety of topics via moduled learning, embarking on City and Guilds and NVQ courses, ranging from a brief spell in hairdressing to administration, and now works for a utility company in North West London. Tracy has numerous hobbies consisting of landscape painting to landscape gardening and always likes to paint the scene, even if it’s changing the colour scheme, yet again, within her home. Tracy has always enjoyed writing and used to write short stories for her own children’s amusement but it has only been in the last few years that she has taken this more seriously and has gone on to write her first debut crime detective novel called Gordon Square. Tracy married her second husband in 2014 and now lives in Bedfordshire in a sleepy hamlet where she writes whenever she gets a spare moment.
Imagine 2003 was not as you remembered. Not In My Name is a story about activist Phoebe Green and Tony Blair has held a referendum in order o decide if the UK should engage and go to war with Iraq. And the majority vote was “yes” by a mere 4% of the majority votes.
Now imagine being part of a protest where all but two of your group were arrested and later on another was violently beaten to death inside a pub. It’s a throwing thought isn’t it?
As we read more, we bare witness to Phoebe running to help a friend who is now under attack but finds he is dead before she arrives. Phoebe and another friend, Sefu, somehow manage to track down and trap one of their friends attackers and learn of the members of their group is the killer and used a sword belonging to Sefu. Phoebe and Sefu try to narrow down who it could be, and if the murder of both of their friends are linked somehow, and who will be next and when.
Not In My Name isn’t my usual sort of book, but it’ was the idea of an alternative 2003 that pulled me in. I feel like it was slow to start but by chapter three I was well and truly riveted and it really was a rollercoaster read! It’s basically one of those “who did it?” With a big underlying political theme from which you can really take something away from and really gets you thinking. So I guess you could say it’s two genres combined together to create a real gem of a read!
The ending was slightly lacking and had a feel of a closing statement from a tv drama but other than that it was one of those books I’m going to be shouting from the rooftops about whenever I get a chance!
I have a copy of one of Coolwood’s other titles (thank you Book Loving Dragon subscription box!) and can’t wait to get stuck in despite it being an alternative to my usual genre.
Michael Coolwood writes what is known as “feminist cosy mysteries”. His work is deeply political and his characters are driven by a desire to make the world a better place and is driven to write characters this was somewhat partly due to a respect for passionate, caring people, and somewhat partly because cuts to the health service in the UK have ensured he can barely leave the house due to his swamp of health problems. His cosy mystery series is called Democracy and Dissent and grapples with issues of the day. Coolwood has also written other titles which focus on feminist science fiction and fantasy.
As part of the blog tour for Barty Barton, I was lucky enough to hold a Q&A session with Barry’s author, Sue Wickstead, and it was the loveliest author Q&A I’ve done to date. Read on to discover Barry’s own story and that of Sue.
MR; Firstly, I’d like to say how much my daughter and I enjoyed reading Barty Barton! We just adored this well-loved bear and I really felt for the mother who didn’t want to part with him! At the back of the book there are pictures of the real life Barty, what made you go about creating the story of Barty Barton?
SW I’m really pleased to hear you and your daughter loved Barty’s story.
My son had always loved Barty too, he had slept with him and used Barty as a pillow. Barty had become flattened and floppy with all the love.
I asked if he might want him for his son, but he said no and to throw him away as he was old!
I was a little bit sad. Yes, Barty was worn and well-loved but he didn’t need to be thrown away.
My daughter agreed as she remembered all of her soft toys with affection and knew Barty too.
MR– When Thomas leaves home, Barty is left wondering if Thomas will remember him- is this a feeling that parents of older children are left with when their children fly the nest?
SW- I think you are right.
You always worry about your children when they move away, will they still come and visit you.
As a parent you are always there for your children although you might not see them as much.
Barty was not put away in the loft, like the other toys, and secretly when my son came home, he still slept with Barty.
I think the other message in Barty’s story being old doesn’t mean you should be thrown away and discarded. (People, treasures, memories too)
MR- I love how you include all the detail and leave out nothing when the mum painstakingly and lovingly washes Barty and restores him-have you given your own family’s Barty the same “freshen up” and was it as simple as it looked in the book?
SW- When my son said he did not want Barty, my daughter and I decided to sort through a lot of the old toys. We had several bags full.
My daughter selected those that had meaning and just needed a clean.
This was exactly what we did.
Into the washing machine went the white toys and then Barty.
But yes, Barty came out lumpy and bumpy, his stuffing was kapok and had lumped together. I thought he was ruined.
I wrote a tongue in cheek post on my Facebook page and several people commented on it asking if it was my new book.
Another author friend encouraged me to write it so I decided to work on it.
(The lumpy bumpy feelings and having to turn him over sort of reminded me of the Covid infection and hearing of people’s experiences in hospital.)
Repairing him was quite easy. He still needs a little more stuffing but that will happen.
P.S.I have sent a copy of Barty’s book to the teddy bear ladies at the BBC ’Repair Shop’. I hope they got it.
P.P.S My son did in fact give Barty a big cuddle when he was repaired and showed him to his son.
MR-Your previous children’s books mostly focus on transport, will there be more books focusing on toys and the relationship families build with their beloved cuddly animals?
SW-I do have quite a few ideas in the pipeline, but some, like Barty’s story, come along unplanned.
My next book is another unplanned story which is about my brother and his play adventures. While being involved with the Early Years, ‘EYFSHome’, days I was asked to tell a story. It was for my ‘mother earth day’ and was about recycling. I remembered my brother playing at being a binman and I told the story. Then I remembered I had written it a while ago so gave to another look.
Not a bus but a bin lorry.
But I do have a few other ideas for toys? Maybe? Especially my own bear ’MacMac’ who has a loose glass eye. She nearly lost it when I took her to school.
I also have a few more bus stories based on my experiences with the bus.
(When I wrote the first bus story my daughter said she would like me to write about all the fun things we did including the Carnival.)
MR- As you’re a teacher and two of your other children’s books focus on being in the education environment, have you found it easy to transition from writing from a viewpoint point of a professional to writing from a viewpoint of a parent?
SW- I’ve always focussed on children writing for imagination rather than prescriptive tasks. Speaking and listening is a key skill and I loved writing with the children and using their ideas too.
‘A Spooky Tale’, definitely was a lot of their ideas. I had kept this book and read it many times. One of my ex-pupils had drawn some lovely illustrations. It was always a favourite and I would read it to each new class so I knew it worked.
Another teacher friend had encouraged me to develop it for the younger children and I’m glad I did.
‘The Christmas Nativity Rehearsal’ was also a book I wrote with my year group; I was the person in charge of the Christmas play and I know how tricky these things can be. One year it was particularly tricky, my mum saw the production and told me although there were a lot of things that went wrong, she could see how hard the children had tried for me. I wrote the story for the children to say thank you.
In fact, I always used to write with the children and alongside them.
Poems; letters; reports etc..
I have a chapter book about a pirate adventure but who knows if I will ever finish it.
I’ve also part written a book called ‘The Weather Witch’, this is a story I have told when visiting as a teacher. The story is as long as I need it to be and can fit a gap, big or small.
MR– I’d love to hear more about your own experiences as life as a teacher-will you be releasing your own biographic book on your experiences within the classroom and writing?
SW-Teachers Diary: – I have always kept a record of my planning and wrote ‘day books’ when teaching.
As I began supply teaching, I was visiting so many different schools and age groups that I thought I should keep a record of what I did and where have I been.
I’ve used it to look back on and there have been so many surprises along the way.
I have carried this diary on into lockdown. I doubt if it willever be written but I have used it to look back and check. It certainly has been a fun journey.
Children do make you laugh.
MR-Finally, what advice do you have for those working within the education environment (such as teachers, TA’s, and students) when it comes to getting on the same level as children to promote learning, supporting emotional development and supporting families during and after the pandemic?
SW- I was trained to teach children 9-16 but did not teach much before having my own children.
During my first teaching job my dad suddenly died. A year later my son was born and I became involved in the Playbus.
I was lucky to be involved with the Playbus project and met so many different play-workers. I loved attending rallies and enjoyed learning new skills.
I learnt so many practical things and liked to implement them into my teaching.
The local school knew of my reputation and that of the Playbus and I was enlisted to join the staff team. (The Playbus was unpaid work), I could them support the bus, work with the school and the community and also loved teaching.
We had hoped to develop groups, which we did but most of all the bus captured my heart.
The break with the bus began with OFSTED. Times became difficult and as I was an ‘old’ expensive teacher I was pushed aside (Sounds like Barty?)
When I doubted myself (due to difficulties in school) my daughter said “Mum you are an inspirational teacher and that is why the children always loved being in your class.’
Aww praise indeed.
I did once ask a class when I revisited them, why they were pleased to see me? “Because you talk to us and you listen.’ I hope that is me.
I think my play-work on the Playbus did make me put children first.
My advice would be to listen to children, chat alongside and play at their level.
I always played with my own children and shared time together, as they grew up and they wanted to do their own things the Playbus kept me going. My children always said I had three children. ’A boy, a girl and a bus!’ lol
My grandson is now one and I have time with him one morning a week. I’m enjoying being creative, finding things to do, playingand sharing our moments together.
Teaching is definitely a work of the heart.
I always found that children will naturally come to me and smile. My children sometimes found this disconcerting.
P.S. During lockdown I have not enjoyed being the ‘Lockdown Nanny’ (a blog I hope to write someday), being unable to help out and support with child care. But at least now I am enjoying my Thursdays. My books are too old for Alexander but one day… and he will just have to loved buses!
P.P.S. Also. During lockdown I became involved with Early Years online learning using my books (EYFSHOME). Although my books are older than early years it seemed to take me back to my Playbus days and thinking of ideas to support the book, to play, create and sing songs… I’m having fun.
Barty Barton is Thomas’ much loved teddy bear, but as time goes by Barty becomes more tatty and worn until the day Thomas’ mum comes to the rescue and gives Barty Barton a much needed bath, fresh stuffing and some new stitching and he’s ready to go to Thomas’s own child.
We watch Thomas’s mother labour with love over Barty and reassure him along the way, showing the reader just how much a parent can love their child’s favourite cuddly toy.
I read this with my almost-four-year old daughter and shared it with a colleague to read to her children and it was loved by all; a real heart warming and gentle tale which made me realise that my own teddy bear from many years ago was actually in my fathers room! We gave him a wash and gifted him to my daughter and he’s the spitting imagine of Barty in the books! Which thrilled my daughter even more!
Barty Barton is a beautiful story book for children of any age and is one of those that’s also enjoyable for the adult who is to read it over and over again too! I actually really want to delve in to the other stories by Wickstead!
About the Author
Sue Wickstead is a teacher and an author and writes children’s picture books with a bus theme. She has also written a photographic history book about the real bus, which is where her story writing began. Sue once worked with a playbus charity based in Crawley. This led her to write the photographic history book about the project. The ‘Bewbush Playbus’ book was published in 2012.Sue then began to write a fictional tale about the bus.
This is an insightful piece on the character of John Steel written by author, Stuart Field, who has been kind enough to write this for my blog.
“An insight into John Steel. Here are a few things about the character
This is for those who have read about John Steel before or have never heard of him until now.
John Steel is the son of a British Earl, who was also the owner of one of Britain’s largest production firms. After the murder of his entire family by the hands of mercenaries, John Steel finds himself with the title and the business. He has no interest in either but sees the benefits of the title and the company in his job within the British Secret service.
John Steel joined the Army within the lower ranks because he didn’t want to be an officer. He wanted to join as one of the lads. After a short spell with the commando combat engineers, he was recruited by the SAS, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. After been fatally wounded at the family home during the mercenary raid, Steel was nursed back to health and was sent into hiding at the family cabin in Alaska.
He is 36 years old, six-foot-two and finds his love for acrobatics and martial arts comes in a helpful combination. He has emerald, green eyes, but these are dark and cold. Some class them as soulless. This was caused by the life-saving operation he had undergone after the shooting. He has a high pain tolerance and does not bruise easily. Steel is sensitive to bright light and some loud noises. He also dislikes heights but always pushes himself to switch off the fear in a time of crisis.
There are five books in the John Steel series. The fifth novel is what I class as the breakaway novel. I call it a breakaway novel because Steel is no longer with the NYPD. Steel is doing what he was meant to do and working with MI8 and travelling the world. Steel was never meant to be stuck in a team, but I continued because people loved the other characters. However, I think the detectives at the 11th precinct are established enough to do a spin-off series.
John Steel comes across as arrogant, but his trust issues sometimes get in the way of his ‘playing well with others.’ He likes to think outside the box and question what he sees. He is tenacious to a fault. And as well as intimacy issues after losing his wife. He bottles everything up and feels making friends can be a curse because they can be used against you or indeed turn against you. He is also loyal to those he feels deserve it, even to the point of putting his own life in danger to save them. He feels compelled to help people, especially lost causes.
I love the John Steel character because he is the man you want to be and the man you are glad you are not. A compelling character with more tales to come. “
These is the fifth instalment of the John Steel series and having not read the previous four, I was nervous to start in case there were parts I wouldn’t understand but was so intrigued to read because I had very much enjoyed my time in Malta when I was younger so wanted to see the Island from criminal/law man eyes rather than that of an excited child!
An old colleague and friend of John Steel requires his help when his daughter, John’a goddaughter, dies in mysterious circumstances which have been all too quickly by Maltese police as a simple suicide. Upon arriving on the small island (you really can drive around it in a matter of hours!) Steel notices he is followed by a highly attractive woman, and some not-so-beautiful thugs also! But John will stop at nothing to get the answers needed to put his friends grief to rest.
I did find that there were a few parts that may have read a little more smoothly if I had read the previous four books BUT still managed to enjoy the characters and the style of writing just flowed. I really enjoyed the descriptions of surroundings and places of parts of the Island I saw and the parts I didn’t! It was a thrill-ride for sure and I’m excited to read the previous instalments!
About the Author
Stuart Field, real name Phil Syron-Jones, was born in Telford, Shropshire. He joined the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery at the age of seventeen in 1988 and went on to serve in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Gulf. Phil retired from the army in 2010 and took a security job in Germany, where he still lives and works. Phil decided to try his hand at writing. An idea came to him and he just went with it; Steel and Shadows, his first novel, was born.
Three days is how long it took me to read The Bridesmaid; fitted in around working/studying/single mum life. So from that, it’s easy to see how hooked I was by this book! Once the final page was turned, I didn’t know if I was feeling sad, relieved, lost, empty or a mixture of all four of those emotions. In fact, I’m still shocked at the twists as it did not go how I thought it would. And I was pleasantly surprised!
The Bridesmaid’s main narrative is Sasha, a Hackney girl who arrived at Saxby House as a pre-teen while her parents worked for the Clemonte family. She befriends Caitlin and, later down the line, Chuck. The time hopping goes from 2009-modern day London to late 80’s-early 99’s Dorset and each time jump is made entirely clear under the chapter number, so there’s no confusion.
All along I feel like the open plot gave the reader a red herring and helped to creat an entirely different plot from the sidelines (so, I thought that there were two key characters having an affair that spanned over a decade, when actually that’s not what was happening at all!) which made for some highly interesting twists and turns!
Not only does the friendship between Caitlin seem highly one sided and, frankly, viscous but the friendship with Chuck seems a lot more involved throughout the entire book! The ending though was absolutely golden! In fact, there was more than one plot twist and I actually had to read the last few chapters more than twice! I wasn’t confused in the slightest, but I needed to re-read them to get over the shock as it went it a totally different direction to what I had imagined!
I haven’t ever read any of Manning’s previous works, and the fact that she produced this beauty of a book during the a Covid-19 national lockdown of 2020 (the first one in the UK) makes it so much more impressive!
About the Author
Manning studied psychology and was a restaurant-owner and private chef (including to members of the royal family). She is the founder and co-host of Sniffing The Pages, a book review podcast. Her debut psychological thriller, The Daughter in Law, was a bestseller in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. She lives in Dorset.
What do you when you’ve lost your sparkle? Imagine, you’re single when you didn’t think you would be, you’ve lost yourself and you don’t even know who that person is staring back at you in the mirror. What do you do?
Well, you get over to Rhodes. You meet a select group of women who really aren’t your cup of tea and you get swept along in their current and go out until the wee hours of the morning dancing and drinking and become one of The Club. It’s a proper giggle! And then you meet a gorgeous Greek and start to wonder if you’re quite cut out for love again.
Because this is exactly what happens to Sophia Gregory, on the verge of being sixty and suddenly single! She didn’t realise she had totally lost sight of herself and decides a trip away is what she needs, and we follow her journey through rebellious and un-Sophie-like behaviours once she’s settled in with the Old Ducks Club who refuse to grow old gracefully (night time hot tub antics anyone?!) and watch her battle with the “should I/shouldn’t I?” Voices in her mind surrounding that hunky Theo that she simply can’t shake (not that she’s sure she wants too!).
I read this knowing it’s not my usual cup of tea but needing a refreshing and quick little read to pick me up out of my Murder mystery and true crime readathon and was pleasantly surprised that I LOVED it! I expected to enjoy it but didn’t expect to suddenly want to pick my bag and head off to Greece (as you can tell, I’m no chick-lit or Mama Mia fan!) in search of a bunch of loud and rowdy gal-pals! Maddie Please has made the most funny escapist novel anyone after the great balls-up of 2020 could ask for! Perfect!
Maddie Please is a former dentist who has written four novels to date, lives in rural Devon and watching box sets is a big hobby with enjoying red wine and Christmas! The Old Ducks Club is the first of a new set of novels for Boldwood Books which focuses on the hilarious love lives of slightly older women (silver vixens!)
A young man is found dead at his computer in an Internet cafe; cause of death is hard to work out. His mother anticipated the news. The manager of the Internet cafe dies while under police observed hospital care. What do these things have in common? Whose the killer? Was this lad in too deep with bad company? Is the owner of the Internet cafe really all that bad?
Whatever It Takes is the second novel in the DCI Jane Birchfield series, however I hadn’t read the first instalment prior to being given a copy of this to read. Luckily the references to previous cases are few and far between (but intriguing enough to make me order myself a copy of the first book!) and don’t make it a difficult book to read or follow at all as characters are described well and relationships are clear from the start.
I really enjoyed this; I love the character of Jane! She’s so resilient and I really feel for her but do wish she would be home a little more (I really enjoy characters that I feel like I could give a bit of a talking to but will still have a soft spot for!).
Sometimes when male writers create a female lead they can get it a little bit wrong, but I feel that by not writing in the first person has been a positive move as it allows for more flexibility when giving chapters focusing on other characters.
There were some dark parts in the plot but luckily they weren’t particularly graphic meaning that they could be glossed over by the reader, which is a nice option to have in a crime thriller and makes me enjoy Wilson’s writing style and structure even more.
Wilson is a Jack of all trades, having been a journalist in a news paper, postman, HR officer, director, actor, playwright and now published author. The first book of Wilson’s was Every Reason (the first DCI Jane Birchfield novel) was published in 2016 and the follow up to Whatever it Takes isn’t far off being printed (yey!). Wilson was a Manchester lad but now lives of the Isle of Wight (I’m very jealous!) where he finds the sea is the perfect muse and best place for dog walks.