An Ordinary Life by Amanda Prowse

Christmas Eve, 2019. Ninety-four-year-old Molly lies in her hospital bed. A stroke and a fall may have broken her body—but her mind is alive with memories.

London, 1940s. Molly is a bright young woman, determined to help the war effort and keep her head up despite it all. Life becomes brighter when she meets and falls in love with a man who makes her forget everything with one dance. But then war forces her to make an unforgettable sacrifice, and when she’s brought to her knees by a daring undercover mission with the French Resistance, only her sister knows the secret weighing heavily on Molly’s heart.

Now, lying in her hospital bed, Molly can’t escape the memories of what she lost all those years ago. But she is not as alone as she thinks.

Will she be able to find peace—and finally understand that what seemed to be an ordinary life was anything but?

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Her hand shook and her breathing was a little laboured.

ONE, CHELMSFORD, ESSEX -DECEMBER 24TH 2019, AGED 94

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(Lake Union Publishing, 9 February 2021, e-book, 396 pages, borrowed from AmazonKindle via PrimeReading)

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I really loved An Ordinary Live. I was in floods of tears by the time I reached the end. This is a well-written, engaging and incredibly sad book. I felt really connected to the characters. The book opens in 2019 when Molly, in her nineties in confined to bed and goes back in time as she recalls her sad and sometimes tragic life and returns to 2019 at the end. I liked this structure a lot. Molly’s story broke my heart a little. I’d highly recommend this.

One of the Girls by Lucy Clarke

WE WERE DYING FOR A HOLIDAY

The six of us arrived on that beautiful Greek island dreaming of sun-drenched beaches and blood orange sunsets, ready to lose ourselves in the wild freedom of a weekend away with friends.

On the first night we swam under a blanket of stars.

On the second night the games began on our clifftop terrace.

On the third night the idyll cracked, secrets, and lies whispering on the breeze.

And by the final night there was a body on the rocks below . .

WHO WOULD KILL FOR IT?

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Later, we would all remember the hen weekend for one reason: because of what happened on the night of the beach fire.

– WEDNESDAY

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(HarperCollins, 26 May 2022, e-book, 441 pages, borrowed from Glasgow Libraries via OverDrive, #POPSUGARReadingChallenge, a book about a vacation)

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This is a new author for me. I had a great time reading One of the Girls. I don’t really think the title fit the book but that didn’t stop me thoroughly enjoying it. I thought I knew what to expect from the blurb and was delighted when the book takes some unexpected twists and turns. I also loved the fact each chapter was narrated by a different character and occasionally drops some twisty hints of what’s to come. This is the kind of thriller I love, well-written, compelling full of twists and turns with great characters. This is well worth a read.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

When a young writer dies before completing his first novel, his teacher, Jake, (himself a failed novelist) helps himself to its plot. The resulting book is a phenomenal success. But what if somebody out there knows?

Somebody does. And if Jake can’t figure out who he’s dealing with, he risks something far worse than the loss of his career.

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Jacob Finch Bonner, the once promising author of the ‘New & Noteworthy’ (The New York Times Book Review) novel The Invention of Wonder, let himself into the office he’d been assigned on the second floor of Richard Peng Hall, set his beat-up leather satchel on the barren desk, and looked around in something akin to despair.

CHAPTER ONE, ANYBODY CAN BE A WRITER

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(Faber & Faber, 11 May 2021, e-book, 337 pages, borrowed from Glasgow Libraries via BorrowBox)

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This is a new author for me. I really loved The Plot. I started the book in December 2022 but decided to take a month off from reading so returned it unfinished. I was loving it in December and knew I had to read the whole thing. I was not disappointed. The book is well written and engaging with great characters. It also has twists and turns which I thought were original and I didn’t see coming. This is a corker.

Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall

From the top of the Ferris wheel, Ellie can see everything. Her life, laid out beneath her. Ellie looks up. She wants freedom.

Down below, her little sister and mother wait, watching as people bundle off the wheel and disappear into the crowd. No Ellie. Must be the next box.

But the Ferris wheel continues to turn.

When Ellie goes missing on the first day of Schueberfouer, the police are dismissive, keen not to attract negative attention on one of Luxembourg’s most important events.

Probation officer, Cate Austin, has moved for a fresh start, along with her daughter Amelia, to live with her police detective boyfriend, Olivier Massard. But when she realises just how casually he is taking the disappearance of Ellie, Cate decides to investigate matters for herself.

She discovers Luxembourg has a dark heart. With its geographical position, could it be the centre of a child trafficking ring? As Cate comes closer to discovering Ellie’s whereabouts she uncovers a hidden world, placing herself in danger, not just from traffickers, but from a source much closer to home.

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The Ferris Wheel dominates the Luxembourg skyline.

DAY 0, SCHUEBERFOUER, AUGUST 2015

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(Legend Press, 31 October 2015, e-book, 374 pages, bought from Amazon Kindle, #POPSUGARReadingChallenge, a book with ‘girl’ in the title)

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I’ve enjoyed other books by the author, and I really loved Nowhere Girl. I read a lot of thrillers and the plot sounded on par with other books I’ve read. Thankfully, the book is very original and ends up going places quite unexpected. This delighted me. I love it when an author surprises me. I liked the fact the chapters have different narrators including Ellie, Cate, and Ellie’s mother. You’re never quite sure where the book is going to go. This is a fantastic, original thriller with complex characters and plenty of twists.

Shyness and Dignity by Dag Solstad

Nothing in Elias’ measured life, in his whole career as a teacher of literature, in his marriage to the ‘indescribably beautiful’ Eva, foreshadowed the events of that apparently ordinary day. He makes sure he has his headache pills and leaves for work as he has done every morning for the past twenty-five years.

He is only too familiar with his pupils’ hostile attitude both to his lectures and to himself, but today he feels their impatience, their oafishness, more painfully than ever before and, after their ritually dismissive and bored response to his passionate lecture on Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, he reaches a point of crisis.

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HE WAS A RATHER sottish senior master in his fifties, with a wife who had spread out a bit too much and with whom he had breakfast every morning.

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(Vintage Digital, 31 August 2021, e-book, 162 pages, bought from AmazonKindle, translated by Sverre Lyngstad)

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I bought Shyness and Dignity because I’m reading all the books in the Vintage Editions series. I’d never heard of the author or this book before. I’ve enjoyed other books in the series, but this was a total disappointment and waste of money. I didn’t even finish it. I couldn’t get into it all. I didn’t find anything remotely interesting in it. There are no chapter breaks so the whole book is 162 rambling pages where it is very difficult to find a natural point to pause. I don’t like feeling railroaded to read a book in one setting especially one as dull as this one. I don’t really know what the book is about as it was so rambling and tedious. I gave up halfway through. What a piece of garbage.

That Night at the Beach by Kate Hewitt

As mothers we never dare to delve into our worst-nightmare scenarios. What if… we might murmur to each other, and then shake our heads, telling ourselves it’ll never happen to us if we’re just good enough mothers. Yet here we are. And the steady beep of the heart monitor is the only evidence the child in front of us is alive…

It’s Labour Day weekend, so of course we went to the beach. Like we do every year. For a barbecue picnic with my best friend Rose. It’s the perfect tradition—drinks, games, burgers, music, laughter. Together with our husbands, my two teenage sons and her two daughters, we all arrived as the sun was still shimmering over the water, the whole evening ahead of us.

But nothing goes to plan. Old secrets emerge, tempers flare. And so we parents decide to leave the beach, telling the teenagers to enjoy themselves, reassuring them someone will be back to collect them in an hour or two.

But when I return a little while later, I know something is really wrong. Our teens are slurring their words, stumbling to the car. It’s clear they have been drinking and I’m shocked. I never expected our kids to behave this way. I’m bracing myself to have firm words with them in the morning, but the next day my concerns fade to nothing, when seventeen-year-old Bella claims my son Finn assaulted her.

Finn insists he would never do that. And I so want to believe him. Because I brought my son up right. Because a mother would know, wouldn’t she?

What I don’t know is that the answer to what happened that night on the beach may be a matter of life and death for one of our beloved children…

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‘Do I have to go?’

– CHAPTER 1, CARA

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(Bookouture, 19 January 2023, e-book, 398 pages, copy from the publisher via NetGalley)

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I’ve read and loved other books by the author, historical fiction so wanted to see what her contemporary fiction  was like. I was not disappointed. I found That Night at the Beach to be an incredibly sad book and tense at times as it deals with sexual assault through the he said / she said lens. It was an uncomfortable read at times but so well-written and engaging I had to keep returning to it. I liked the fact the author tackled such a difficult subject with sensitivity. This is worth a read.

A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy I. Lin

A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

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When he was a young boy, Kang dreamed of returning to the palace.

CHAPTER ONE, KANG

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(Titan Books, 17 January 2023, e-book, 400 pages, copy from the publisher via NetGalley)

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I really enjoyed the previous book, A Magic Steeped In Poison so knew I had to read this. This picks up soon after the events of the last book. I enjoyed this follow-up almost as much. It’s a bit darker than the first book. The world building is just as exemplary, and the book is rich with vivid details and descriptions and fantastic places and characters. I also liked the fact the chapters are from different character POV’s. This was a pleasure to get lost in.

Good Grief, the Ground by Margaret Ray

Margaret Ray is pulling back the curtains on our societal performance of culture, guiding an exposing light to the daily performance that is life in a woman’s body.

Selected by Stephanie Burt as the winner of the A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize, Margaret Ray’s Good Griefthe Ground interrogates the everyday violence’s nonchalantly inflicted unto women through personal, political, and national lenses. Moving between adolescence and adulthood, Ray alternates between dark humour and heart-wrenching honesty to explore grief, anxiety, queer longing, girlhood, escape from a bad marriage, and the dangers of lending language to a thing.  With stunning wit and precision and attention, we see Ray show us what it is to be human: the mess of tenderness and darkness and animosity. 

Out of the heavy Florida dusk, out of peach juice and late-night swimming pool break-ins and grocery store aisles comes these completely captivating poems. In the words of Stephanie Burt: “Come and see. Take care. Dive in.”

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The beetles have gathered in pairs.

THE END OF AUGUST

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(BOA Editions, 18 May 2023, e-book, 104 pages, #ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss+)

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This is a new poet for me. I loved Good Grief, the Ground. I love discovering new poets. It’s rare to find a poetry collection where every poem and every word in it just works and ticks all of the boxes. I found that with this collection. I love the prose style of the poems and the imagery, and the range of themes explored. This collection was a joy to read. I especially liked Haunt, Getting Your Period At Water Park, My Younger Self Speaks To Me And I Write Down What She Says, Something That Floats, Late & Soon and Peaches. This is a remarkable collection.

The Beatrix Potter Collection

Award-winning actor Andrew Scott performs enchanting tales for both children and adults alike, in The Beatrix Potter Collection which features an introduction from Patricia Routledge, patron of The Beatrix Potter society.

The collection includes the classic tales of Peter Rabbit – a rebellious and disobedient young rabbit, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle – the diligent hedgehog washerwoman, Jemima Puddle-Duck – an innocent and loving mother duck, and many more, as they cause mischief, confront danger and make new friends.

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Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and Peter.

THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT

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(Audible Studios, 8 September 2019, audiobook, 4 hours 13 minutes, bought from Audible)

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I really enjoyed listening to The Beatrix Potter Collection. I’ve never actually read any of the books or stories myself but am familiar with them through movies and the like. This was given as a freebie when I was an audible member. The stories are delightful and it was a pleasure to listen to this.

Lucy by The Sea by Elizabeth Strout

As a panicked world goes into lockdown, Lucy Barton is uprooted from her life in Manhattan and bundled away to a small town in Maine by her ex-husband and on-again, off-again friend, William. For the next several months, it’s just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the moody, swirling sea.

Rich with empathy and emotion, Lucy by the Sea vividly captures the fear and struggles that come with isolation, as well as the hope, peace, and possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this story are the deep human connections that unite us even when we’re apart. The pain of a beloved daughter’s suffering, the emptiness that comes from the death of a loved one, the promise of a new friendship, and the comfort of an old, enduring love.

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Like many others, I did not see it coming.

– ONE

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(Bolinda Audio, 1 November 2022, audiobook, 8 hours 21 minutes, borrowed from Glasgow Libraries via BorrowBox)

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I really enjoyed Lucy by The Sea. I’ve enjoyed other books featuring Lucy Barton so was looking forward to listening to this. I loved the fact the book is set in lockdown. I’m not a huge fan of books set during the pandemic/lockdown as I prefer something original but it works perfectly here as Lucy and William and their shared history. I also liked references to current events such as George Floyd. The book isn’t just about Lucy although she narrates it but her family and past history with William and David. I also liked the fact the author’s other book; Olive Kitteridge is referenced. This delighted me for some reason.

A Moment in Eternity by @SGZimmer

The people of his tribe call Hongvi the Shadow Walker.

A great warrior and hunter with a traumatic past, his courage is unrivalled among the Shinumu people.

When tales arrive of giants roving the plains to the east of the great canyons, where his tribe dwells in villages built into the facings of cliffs, Hongvi does not hesitate to undertake a journey alone to investigate.

Yet the threat of giants is not the only peril facing the tribe…

A great darkness is coalescing to the south, in the lands of the Dinay, the enemy of the Shinumu. Rumours abound of sorcerous priests steeped in blood sacrifice who have come from foreign lands to rule.

A Moment in Eternity is a stand-alone novella that is part of the Hongvi Shadow Walker Tales!

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Not even a whisper of the chilled night air rippled through the brooding stillness.

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(@7thStarPress, 23 November 2022, e-book, 129 pages, copy from @TCMPublicity, #BlogTour 24 January)

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I liked this novella a lot. I haven’t read any book in the Hongvi Shadow Walker Tales but might check them out now as I enjoyed this so much. I didn’t feel like I had to be familiar with the other books to enjoy this. I really liked the language used in the book, they helped the book and characters really come to life. You see everything from Hongvi’s POV which works really well. I liked the way the story gradually unfolds as Hongvi determines to do the right thing even if it’s not what his tribe wants. This is a good read.

The Secrets of Summer House by Rachel Burton

The secrets of Summer House are about to come out at last…

1976. Rushing out of the University Library, undergraduate Alice Kenzie bumps straight into PhD student Tristan Somers. There begins a whirlwind romance, and Alice falls pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. Then Tristan is killed in a car accident. Unable to cope, Alice takes her baby to Summer House, Tristan’s family home in Suffolk, leaves her there and disappears.

2018. Olivia Somers has always been told that her mother died in the same accident as her father. But when she finds a bundle of old letters in Summer House, everything she ever believed about her mother is called into question. Can she find her – and even more importantly, forgive her?

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She sleeps fitfully, disturbed by strange dreams.

PROLOGUE, CAMBRIDGE, JUNE 2018

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(Aria, 21 April 2022, e-book, 336 pages, borrowed from AmazonKindle via PrimeReading)

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I thoroughly enjoyed The Secrets of Summer House. I really enjoy books that use time shifts and different timelines to tell a story. This can be a really effective method of storytelling and it certainly is with this book. The chapters move from the present with Oliva trying to get to the bottom of family secrets she discovers after her grandmother dies and 1976 when Olivia’s parents meet and set in force a chain of events that have consequences for many years I enjoyed learning about both era’s and characters and how they all fit together. This is a riveting book.

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