We’ve Got Talent by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles

Each night just after bath time and before bed we are treated to a “show”, and I have to say my little girl is very much all about the “pretty dresses” and dancing while my son largely chucks himself around playing air guitar and roaring like a dragon. What a way to wind down before bed 😳

In We’ve Got Talent by Hannah Whitty and Paula Bowles, our two little protagonists quite rightly refuse to stay in the very much gender-stereotyped boxes they’ve been placed in at school.

Olivia and Sam are both auditioning for the school play. There’s a part for a dancing princess and one for a fearless knight – what could possibly go wrong?! Well, as it turns out, quite a lot actually.

When they both feel as though they’ve been cast in the wrong roles, they decide to take matters into their own hands. And vastly improve the play while they’re at it!

This is a lovely, gentle story about listening to your heart, being true to yourself, and busting those gender stereotypes. I love Paula Bowles’ bright and detailed illustrations (complete with a little nod to Superkitty, another fab book by this paring, if you can spot it!), as well as the rainbow theme, which is a fitting reference to the rainbow flag and LGBTQ+ pride.

When I first read this book I totally thought I’d predicted how it was all going to pan out, but actually, the real ending was so much better than the ending I expected – and this is why I review books and don’t write them 😂

With thanks to Paula Bowles for kindly sending me a copy to review. We’ve Got Talent is published by Simon Kids and is available to buy now!

Waiting for the Miracle by Anna McPartlin

Today I’m thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for Anna McPartlin’s brand new novel, Waiting for the Miracle, which publishes tomorrow. As a huge fan of this author’s previous books and her unique ability to have me crying with sadness one minute and crying with laughter the next, I knew I was in for a real treat.

(TW: infertility, pregnancy and baby loss).

The main narrative centres around four women that attend the same infertility support group who, bonded by heartbreak, become friends. Their stories and characters are very different but their goals are the same: they want a child. Only Ronnie keeps her cards very close to her chest, and we’re left wondering what were the circumstances that brought her to the group.

In 1979 16 year old Catherine is pregnant and her boyfriend, the son of a highly respected local judge, doesn’t want to know. Her parents send her to a convent for pregnant girls, where she is treated abominably. Desperate to keep her baby, she tries everything she can think of to make that happen, but the stories she has been told by the other girls make her very fearful for the future…

Anna McPartlin writes with amazing warmth and sensitivity about whichever subject she turns her hand to, drawing readers into her worlds and making them genuinely care for each character. As you might imagine, there are plenty of sad moments throughout this book, but ultimately I was left feeling uplifted and happy that the women each found some kind of resolution, even if it was perhaps not the one they originally wanted or expected.

I found Catherine’s story to be absolutely horrifying, and have spent a large part of my time since finishing this book reading up on the real-life history of “mother and baby homes” in Ireland. That such places can possibly have existed and in such recent history is beyond upsetting. I loved how the author drew the two seemingly disparate timelines together in a way that I was absolutely not expecting but was totally perfect.

Waiting for the Miracle cements Anna McPartlin as an auto-buy author for me – give me everything she’s ever written please! With thanks to Zaffre for gifting me a digital copy for the blog tour and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to join. It’s out tomorrow and do check out some of the other stops on the tour if you get chance.

The Boys by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie

When Best Friends Day, World Oceans Day and Pride Month collide, there’s one picture book that simply has to be shared and it’s this one: The Boys by Lauren Ace and Jenny Lovlie.

I don’t think there’s much I can say about it that hasn’t been said before as it’s, totally deservedly, a kidlit favourite. A celebration of male friendship and individuality, its portrayal of growing up and finding oneself, as well as how friendships grow and change over time, I find so moving and just completely perfect.

If you’re looking for a book that’s brilliantly inclusive and a total stereotype-buster then this is a book for you. As a boy mum, I adore how each of the boys have very different personalities and hobbies, including art, literature and music as well as football and science. One of my absolute favourite images is the joyous wedding celebration of Tam and his husband, with all of their friends and children around them.

Throughout, their beloved ocean reflects the changing nature of their friendships, and I love to compare the first and last spreads, with all the boys in the same sea location but with so many years in between.

A fitting follow-up to The Girls, The Boys is sure to be one of my favourite picture books of the year. With thanks to Little Tiger for gifting us this copy to review. The Boys is out now.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

After reading and loving Stacey Halls’ first two novels, Mrs England became one of my most keenly anticipated books of 2021. And she’s done it again. This atmospheric, gothic mystery, with Du Maurier-esque darkness, tension and character-building is a fantastic, absorbing read; I loved it!

Set in 1904 in a country house in rural Yorkshire, Mrs England follows newly-qualified Norwood nurse, Ruby May, as she takes up her new position as nurse to the children of mill-owners Mr and Mrs England. Straight away we realise that there’s something perhaps a little unconventional about the family but Ruby, in need of money to send home to her family, is keen to make a success of her new role.

The first half of the book is filled with a sense of foreboding as we wonder why Mrs England keeps to her room and has very little to do with any of her children or with running the household. When Ruby stops receiving letters, she can’t quite believe that her vulnerable sister hasn’t replied to her correspondence. But if Elsie has written, where can the letters have disappeared to..?

After the slower-burn of the opening pages, the pace picks up in the latter half, and we start to realise something of the sinister goings on at the house. It was here that I was completely and utterly hooked.

Halls has this amazing skill for writing incredible, strong and resilient women, which at the same time feel totally authentic for their eras. Ruby May and Mrs England are not characters I’ll forget in a hurry.

With thanks to Zaffre for gifting me a digital copy for the blog tour and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part. Check out some of the other stops on the tour if you get chance. Mrs England is out on Thursday.

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain

If you’re looking for a totally brilliant, uplifting read for Pride Month than I can heartily recommend The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain.

Synopsis:

64-year-old Albert Entwistle has been a postie in a quiet town in Northern England for all his life, living alone since the death of his mam 18 years ago. He keeps himself to himself. He always has. But he’s just learned he’ll be forced to retire at his next birthday. With no friends and nothing to look forward to, the lonely future he faces terrifies him. He realises it’s finally time to be honest about who he is. He must learn to ask for what he wants. And he must find the courage to look for George, the man that, many years ago, he lost – but has never forgotten . . .

This book made me smile so much my face hurt; I loved absolutely everything about it. Albert goes through a real journey and grows so much as the story progresses, picking up a cast of warm and loveable characters along the way. His inter-generational friendship with Nicole and her little girl is wonderful as is the gorgeous love story between Albert and George.

Through the many sad moments I found The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle to be overwhelmingly hopeful, showing how it’s never too late to find your true happiness.

I read it for free via The Pigeonhole HQ but the opinions are entirely my own. It’s published by Headline and is out now!

The Pact by Sharon Bolton

Today I’m thrilled to be hosting the blog tour for what is easily one of my favourite thrillers of the year so far: The Pact by Sharon Bolton.

It has to be said that this book provides a total masterclass in how to write an incredible hook, starting with one of the most gripping openings I’ve ever read. As six of Oxfordshire’s brightest young students drink the night away in anticipation of the next day’s A Level results, one of them suggests a continuation of an extraordinarily dangerous game they had been playing over previous months. Though most seem reluctant, the game goes ahead, with devastating consequences.

Megan, a scholarship student with arguably the least to lose, agrees to take the blame in return for a favour, any favour in fact, from each of the others upon her release from jail. Fast forward 20 years and here she is, ready to cash in on those promises. But what will her demands be, and will the others allow her to disrupt their perfectly constructed lives..?

The Pact has everything I’m looking for in a books of this genre. It’s pacy, twisty, and has some jaw-droppingly horrifying moments. The pervading sense of sinister, creeping dread, is at times interrupted by action-packed adrenaline-fuelled passages, which certainly kept me guessing and frantically turning those pages.

On a personal level, having lived and worked in central Oxford for a long time, I thought the author’s evocation of place, and the privilege that often goes hand in hand with that, was outstanding. Her examination of the luxuries and political advantage afforded to the wealthy, contrasted with Megan’s relative naivety and isolation, was really well-written and thought-provoking.

After reading and loving The Split last year, The Pact has cemented Sharon Bolton as an absolute auto-buy author for me. With thanks to Trapeze for gifting me a digital copy to review and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to join the tour. The Pact is out in e-book now and in hardcover tomorrow! Don’t forget to check out some of the other stops on the tour if you get chance.

Sometimes I Am Furious by Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger

Easily the most read book by my littlest reader these last few days has been this brilliant forthcoming book by Timothy Knapman and Joe Berger: Sometimes I Am Furious. Which is funny, because part of me feels as though they might have taken inspiration from actual scenes from our lives. “Small girl… BIG feelings”..? Yep, that subtitle alone just about sums it up!

Sometimes I like digging.

Sometimes I make cakes.

Sometimes I don’t mind it

when the grown-ups make mistakes.

But SOMETIMES

I am furious.

This sweet and funny, rhyming story captures perfectly the everyday struggles battled by a tiny toddler who is working out how to deal with some huge emotions. Pretty quickly my own tiny toddler picked up on the titular refrain, so she likes to read (well, if I’m honest, shout) this one along with me. “Furious” is such a great word to describe those toddler tantrums, isn’t it?!

I love the bright yellow theme running through each spread, as well as the little girl’s decidedly grumpy face, which we zoom in on as she gets progressively angrier at life’s injustices. My 2yo gets particularly outraged that the girl’s ice cream is tiny in comparison to those being eaten by the other children (yep, she’s definitely my daughter 😂). This illustrative style I think is super engaging for little ones, which helps the important message to really hit home.

There’s a gorgeous, tender scene towards the end, where our little protagonist is being given a cuddle and some advice as to how to manage her angry feelings. But will she be able to act on it..?

Sometimes I Am Furious will be published on the 24th June and is available to preorder now. With thanks to Macmillan Kids for gifting us a copy to review

The Couple by Helly Acton

Is there anything worse, as the only single person in a sea of couples, than feeling as though you’re being pitied? Or when all the smug pairs start making “helpful” suggestions as to how you might go about “fixing” your obviously empty and meaningless life?! 🙄😡

In her new novel, The Couple, Helly Acton turns societal norms on their heads, in the most brilliant way! What if being in a romantic relationship was actually largely seen as undesirable? And being in a couple, something you’re expected to be embarrassed or ashamed of? Perhaps scientists have even come up with a pill you can take, to cure you of romantic love for good.

Millie is completely happy with her single life. She has it all: the career, the social life, the (slightly grumpy) cat. She’s in line for a big promotion, if only she can come up with a fabulous campaign to launch Oxytoxin, a pill that prevents people from falling in love. The only problem is that she has been teamed up with Ben, the new guy, and she feels an instant connection. She tries to shake off her growing feelings towards him. After all, her mother, her friends, and even her alter ego, sensible Millie, wouldn’t approve. Needless to say, a battle between her head and her heart ensues… but which one will win..?

It took me 50 pages or so to fully wrap my head around and embrace the attitude switch, but once I was in I was ALL IN. If you’ve read Helly Acton’s debut novel, The Shelf, you’ll know that she has this incredible knack for writing the most amazingly, vivid, diverse and likeable cast of characters, and she’s smashed it again here in The Couple. I kind of fancied Ben, totally admired Millie, fell in love with her “sister” June, and I was fully invested in all their escapades.

It is a smart, warm and funny book, which is equally really thought-provoking in terms of the commentary on society’s views on being single. I think it would make an excellent book club choice, because there’s just so much to think about and discuss. Suspend disbelief a little bit, grab a cuppa and dive in – you won’t regret it!

With thanks to Zaffre for gifting me a digital copy to review and to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to join the blog tour. Don’t forget to check out some of the other stops if you can. The Couple is out on Thursday but is available to preorder now!

Her Last Holiday by C.L. Taylor

Her Last Holiday by C.L. Taylor is the type of thriller you want to be reading on a sun lounger somewhere by the sea – come on Spring, sort your life out! I had high hopes for this one after reading and enjoying Sleep by the same author, but though it was definitely a page-turner, I have to say, I didn’t love this one quite so much.

Synopsis:


Two years ago, Fran’s sister Jenna disappeared on a wellness retreat in Gozo that went terribly wrong.

Tom Wade, the now infamous man behind Soul Shrink Retreats, has just been released from prison after serving his sentence for the deaths of two people. But he has never let on what happened to the third victim: Jenna.

Determined to find out the truth, Fran books herself onto his upcoming retreat – the first since his release – and finds herself face to face with the man who might hold the key to her sister’s disappearance. The only question is, will she escape the retreat alive? Or does someone out there want Jenna’s secrets to stay hidden?

Packed full of twists and turns this is a book that keeps you on your toes. Just when you think you’ve got the measure of everything, another revelation pops up to blindside you. I really liked the premise and its interesting cast of characters, some to love and some to hate!

You’ll need to suspend disbelief a little bit to get fully on board with parts of the plot, and you’ll have to not mind too much that some of the more minor twists are perhaps hinted at a bit too strongly. But it’s nevertheless an enjoyable read and I’ll still pick up any book Taylor ever writes because she’s brilliant!

With thanks to Avon for gifting me a digital copy to review. Her Last Holiday is out now.

A Hat for Mr Mountain by Soojin Kwak

Today the Klaus Flugge Prize, for the most promising newcomer in children’s book illustration, will be announced. So what better time to share this sweet book from the longlist?! A Hat for Mr Mountain by Soojin Kwak.

Nara makes beautiful hats for all creatures, great and small, in her forest studio. One day, she receives a letter from Mr Mountain requesting a hat to protect him from the winter snow. Determined to help him out and with the help of some wonderful friends, she sets to work. But not everything goes according to plan…

At first undeterred, Nara tries a new design, then another, until eventually she gets sad and gives up. The animals desperately try to find a way to cheer her up and help her to make the perfect hat for Mr Mountain. Eventually, Monkey comes up with an idea that might just be able to save the day…

We love this gentle, dreamy story. Nara is kind, super-creative, and patient though, like all of us, her powers of perseverance have their limits! Luckily, her friends are their to pick her up when she’s feeling overwhelmed, and they convince her to keep going.

Looking at Soojin Kwak’s beautiful artwork, it’s not difficult to see why this book has been longlisted for the Klaus Flugge Prize. Stunning green landscapes are complemented by more whimsical, fluffy cloud-filled skies and the characterful expressions of the rag-tag band of animals. The sense of community all pulling together is warming, as is Nara’s triumph over adversity.

We borrowed A Hat for Mr Mountain from the library but it is also available to buy now.