Just what the Doctor ordered … and some things I wish she hadn’t.



The perfect place for a lie-in and a brew –  the view from the bedroom window

I’m delighted to say that our holiday was a perfect 2 weeks of rest and relaxation and just what we both needed before the onset of more challenging treatments. Our rented house was overlooking the bay in Glandore on the South West Coast of Ireland. The view from the house was enough to brighten anyone’s day. When the weather was fine, it was beautiful and when the weather was less so, it was dramatic.

While it did have wi-fi (accessible if I sat at a certain place near the kitchen rammed up against the door) it was not conducive to interacting and/or spending long periods browsing. Consequently social media was to some degree on the back burner. This certainly helped improve my ability to actually get some reading done. Having decided to put all review books on the back burner for the duration of the holiday, I managed to read the grand total of 12 books. Given my recent output that was nothing short of a minor miracle and serves to prove that part of the problem has been less my medical circumstances and more the pressure of reviews and pre-occupation with social media So lessons to be learned I think.


Surgery wise everything was appearing to heal nicely, until a couple of days into the holiday my affected boob started to go all red and mottled underneath. Googling the possible cause was a big mistake, worst case scenario was sepsis, otherwise at best it was an infection that needed antibiotics and a trip to the doctors asap. However common sense prevailed as I figured in either case there would be some other signs, so in the absence of swelling, hardening, pain or fever I figured I’d live another day to see how things panned out. Of course what it turned out to be was a hideous bruise that continued to ‘mature’ over the course of the next week, but who would have expected it to appear 2 weeks after surgery, with no other previous bruising having been seen – not me. I’m beginning to see a pattern emerging with some of this process in that instead of scaring people to death with all the symptoms that might not appear, why can’t someone tell you what is commonly likely to happen. A brief warning of all the strange tweaks, twinges and ‘shocks’ that are normal as the nerves begin to knit would also have been useful. As would the knowledge that it is normal to feel as if your nipple is attached to elastic and some bugger is pulling it from the inside. That and the fact that it seems to have taken on a sensitivity never previously experienced.

Coinciding with sepsis-gate, my armpits decided to take umbrage at the new ‘safe’ deodorant and became exceedingly sore and itchy. So the search was on for an alternative.  Thankfully, the health food shop in Ballydehob came up trumps with a Salt of the Earth deodorant spray, it worked, it didn’t sting and is still doing its job without any problems – hurray.

While away, I also acquired some perfect accompaniments to join me on my chemo journey. Some lovely fluffy socks and a fabulous warm cuddly blanket. Who knew that bed socks at 3 pairs for 3 euros would send me into ecstasy – my priorities are definitely changing!


Me with my not so little superstar

Sadly the two weeks came to an end and I’d like to have it on record that my OH was a star while we were away. I didn’t have to do a thing as he took on all cooking, cleaning (not too much) and washing up duties as well as all the driving. So thank you – I knew those 30 years of training would pay off one day. Of course coming home meant that the results we’d been trying not to think about were only a couple of days away.

Monday arrived and not sure how we got any work done in the morning, but we managed to look occupied even if we were pre-occupied. A reasonably quick drive to the hospital followed by the inevitable but not too long a wait saw us greeted by my Breast Care Nurse ahead of joining my surgeon. I won’t drag this out, I’m delighted to say that the results were the best we could hope for. The margins on the tumour were clear and neither of the 2 lymph nodes that were removed showed any signs of cancer – yippee. So now onto the next stage.

My first appointment with my oncologist was set for Thursday and we set off for The Christie trying to second guess what the Manchester rush hour traffic would be like. As it happens on this occasion better that we anticipated. This was just as well as it transpired before I saw Dr H I was scheduled for blood tests. One of my favourite things – NOT.  I was immediately ticked off for not drinking water and being de-hydrated as this makes it harder to find a juicy vein. In my case it transpired it was impossible and so the nurse resorted to using the back of my hand – I’m still sporting the dirty great bruise that resulted. Yet another example I have to say of not being informed about what will happen. No mention of blood tests (or indeed the ECG that also followed) and even if I had been warned, no-one had ever pointed out (what might be obvious to some) the direct correlation between water and veins. I am now drinking water for England ahead of the needlefest that takes place next week.

I have to say my oncologist was very personable and not stuffy, which was a good start. As she proceeded to go through by proposed treatment I could feel myself deflating inside at the prospect. Once again a list of side effects you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy and of course as ever the worst case scenario was heart failure – that’s all good then. So it appears my regime is 3 cycles of Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide followed by 3 cycles of Docetaxel and the start of 18 cycles of Herceptin. As if that wasn’t enough once the chemo has finished the Radiotherapy kicks in – can’t wait! I did have an inner giggle when Dr H asked to look at my breast to check that things were healing OK as my OH was still in the room. I’m well aware of an apparently common male fantasy of girl on girl action and couldn’t help thinking this wouldn’t have been what he had in mind had it been one of his. (I should add I didn’t ask and I don’t particularly want to know).

So with the formalities out-of-the-way, that was it. We were left to ponder the coming months and how we were going to cope with juggling work and treatments (I work with my OH who is self-employed). A visit to the The Christie was also the opportunity to get fixed up with my wig voucher – yes, another thing to look forward to – I will lose my hair. I’ve also been warned that it’s not guaranteed to grow back perfectly and might be patchy. We had broached the subject of a cold cap to try to allay this possibility but I’d ruled out that option several weeks ago. I already suffer from headaches, can get brain freeze from eating ice-cream and a headache from walking in a cold wind.  The idea of sitting in a freezing cap for 45 minutes before, during and after treatment was a non starter for me and OH is fully supportive. As he keeps telling me, I am not my hair or my nails (yes they might fall off too), my eyebrows or my eyelashes – where did I find him?

We also took the chance to pop in to the wonderful Maggie’s Centre which offers a little haven of tranquility or chatty support depending on what you need. We were happy to chat to G a volunteer whose partner is at the end of the process I’m just starting. It was good for my OH to hear that it isn’t all doom and gloom, and that life and work still carry on, just not always at 100%. Mind you he did let drop she was a bit of a gym bunny, so that does give her a bit of a head start on my rather more couch potato approach to life of late. I’d love to visit again as they have some great courses and presentations (not to mention free tea and Roses chocolates – yum) – I’ll need to bribe someone to drive me in.

So we’re nearly up to date, this week only involved 2 hospital/doctor visits and I managed to get these both out-of-the-way on the same day and thankfully locally. A quick trip to my local hospital for an Echocardiogram. The Herceptin can weaken heart muscles so I need monitoring before we start and regularly throughout the treatment. I guess whatever else happens I’ll know everything else is working perfectly by the time I’ve been tested each step of the way. Finally an exceedingly quick jab at my local surgery for the Flu Vaccine and that’s me set up for next week when the fun and games really begin.





#ThrowbackThursday – What Burns Away by Melissa Falcon Field – 4*s #Review @FalconFieldMe

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday was designed as an opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. As I started reviewing on Goodreads long before I started my blog, it seemed a great way of sharing my earlier reviews (which I hope have improved since the early days).

So this week I’m revisiting What Burns Away by Melissa Falcon Field – first reviewed in February 2015.

What Burns Away.jpg

Good wife, good mother. That’s all Claire Spruce is trying to be, but the never-ending snow in this new town and her workaholic husband are making her crazy. Even the sweet face of her toddler son can’t pull her out of the dark places in her head.

Feeling overwhelmed and alone, she reconnects with her long-lost high school boyfriend, Dean, who offers an intoxicating, reckless escape. But Dean’s reappearance is not a coincidence. He wants something from Claire-and she soon finds that the cost of repaying an old favor may lead to the destruction of her entire life.

What Burns Away is a story of loyalty, family, and the consequences of the past’s inevitable collision with our future.

My Review

If you’ll excuse the pun, I found this was initially a slow burner, but when it started to take off I really didn’t see what was coming.

Claire gave up a fulfilling job to become a stay at home Mum to a toddler, but is finding her new role not as satisfying as she anticipated. Add to this the fact that she has just moved miles away from family and friends for her workaholic husband’s new job and life starts to get her down. Into this void steps Dean her first boyfriend who finds her on Facebook.

The story is told via flashbacks to their teenage romance alternating past and present. When Dean turns up for real on her doorstep, Claire’s life really begins to spiral out of control. With unimaginable consequences.

While at times I lost patience with Claire, I think most of us can empathise with some of her feelings. For her, life is something she feels she’s lost control of and looking back she sees the person she was, with hopes and dreams and just wonders where that person went. The re-appearance of Dean lets her re-live her youth and become that person again, although she learns the hard way that the grass is not always greener.

I think the fact that I was really engaged by the story despite not always liking the characters is testament to how well it was written. For me Claire is very immature, her husband worthy, but selfish and Dean still the chancer he was when he was younger. This would make a good book club read as it raises issues about relationships, marriage, motherhood, careers against a background of living in the present and not the past.

As a debut novel this is a great start.


Book Haul – week ended 7 October 2017

Another click happy week but with some great freebies and fabulous bargains in the Kindle Sale I’m surprised it wasn’t more.

Kindle purchases


Angolan ClanThe Angolan Clan by Christopher Lowery

1974/5: After the Revolution of the Carnations, Portugal is transformed into a communist state. Capitalists are ruthlessly persecuted and the liberated Portuguese colony of Angola is thrust into one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. The fabled Angolan diamond mines are closed down, but not before a group of refugees escape with a hoard of the precious gems. Their lives promise wealth and success, but a legacy of revenge and greed will eventually find them all, with fatal consequences.. 2008: A millionaire businessman drowns in the swimming pool of his mansion in Marbella; a wealthy Frenchman is killed while skiing in the Swiss Alps; and a Portuguese playboy and a prostitute are found murdered together in a seedy New York apartment. The series of seemingly unconnected deaths sets two women Jenny Bishop, a young English widow, and Angolan born Leticia da Costa on a terrifying journey into the past to revisit the Portuguese revolution and the Angolan civil war. Together they begin to unlock a 30 year old mystery that promises to change their lives forever if they survive to reveal the truth. THE ANGOLAN CLAN takes the reader on a heart-stopping roller coaster ride, from past to present and back again. It is a deadly intercontinental treasure hunt laced with secrets, deceit and murder. The prize is a fortune in Angolan diamonds..or death at the hands of a pathological killer.


House to Mend a Broken HeartA House to Mend a Broken Heart by Alison Sherlock

Willow Tree Hall has seen much better days and has been the proud ancestral home of the Earl and Countess of Cranley for centuries.

With no qualifications and escaping her past Annie Rogers takes the job as housekeeper to widowed Arthur, the charming current Earl of Cranley. After a bad fall puts Arthur in hospital, it’s up to his reluctant heir, Sam Harris, to lend a helping hand and try to find a sustainable future for the Estate.

With the house requiring a full renovation, Annie suddenly finds herself completely out of her depth with a team of dodgy builders and Sam watching critically from the side-lines.

With Sam running from his past and Annie hiding from hers, just maybe together they can bring Willow Tree Hall back to life.

The start of a beautiful new series focussing on the lives and loves, trials and tribulations of all those who live and work at Willow Tree Hall.


It Was Always YouIt Was Always You by Georgie Capron

Libby has been drifting through life for too long and, now in her early 30’s, it’s time to grow up. She decides to have one last summer of fun before buckling down, so heads off to beautiful Positano in Italy.

There, despite all her good intentions, she can’t help but fall a little in love with the very handsome, but rather naughty, Luca and, as the summer draws to a close, Libby has some big decisions to make.

Should she head back home and face up to her responsibilities? Is Luca really the right man to start a family with, or has the perfect man been right in front of her eyes all this time?

And, when it comes to affairs of the heart, is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?


Maria in the MoonMaria in the Moon by Louise Beech

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’ Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…


Uncommon Life of Alfred WarnerThe Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days by Juliet Conlin

Approaching 80, frail and alone, a remarkable man makes the journey from his sheltered home in England to Berlin to meet his granddaughter. He has six days left to live and must relate his life story before he dies…

His life has been rich and full. He has witnessed firsthand the rise of the Nazis, experienced heartrending family tragedy, fought in the German army, been interred in a POW camp in Scotland and faced violent persecution in peacetime Britain. But he has also touched many lives, fallen deeply in love, raised a family and survived triumphantly at the limits of human endurance. He carries within him an astonishing family secret that he must share before he dies… a story that will mean someone else’s salvation.

Welcome to the moving, heart-warming and uncommon life of Alfred Warner.


Cottingley SecretThe Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

1917: When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, announce they have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, endorses the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a sensation; their discovery offering something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript and a photograph in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story of the two young girls who mystified the world. As Olivia is drawn into events a century ago, she becomes aware of the past and the present intertwining, blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, will Olivia find a way to believe in herself?


This Must be the PlaceThis Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

A reclusive ex-film star living in the wilds of Ireland, Claudette Wells is a woman whose first instinct, when a stranger approaches her home, is to reach for her shotgun. Why is she so fiercely protective of her family, and what made her walk out of her cinematic career when she had the whole world at her feet?

Her husband Daniel, reeling from a discovery about a woman he last saw twenty years ago, is about to make an exit of his own. It is a journey that will send him off-course, far away from the life he and Claudette have made together. Will their love for one another be enough to bring Daniel back home?


Balthazar JonesBalthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart

Meet Balthazar Jones, Beefeater at the Tower of London. Married to Hebe, he lives and works in the Tower, as he struggles to cope with the tragic death of his son Milo, three years ago.

The Tower of London is its own magical world; a maze of ancient buildings, it is home to a weird and wonderful cast of characters – the Jones’s of course, as well as Reverend Septimus Drew, the Ravenmaster, and Ruby Dore, landlady of the Tower’s very own tavern, the Rack & Ruin. And, after an announcement from Buckingham Palace that the Queen’s exotic animals are to be moved from London Zoo to the Tower’s grounds, things are about to become a whole lot more interesting…

Komodo dragons, marmosets, and even zorillas (‘a highly revered yet uniquely odorous skunk-like animal from Africa’) fill the Tower’s menagerie – and it is Balthazar Jones’s job to take care of them. Things run far from smoothly, though – missing penguins and stolen giraffes are just two of his worries


Lost Daughter of IndiaThe Lost Daughter of India by Sharon Maas

When Caroline meets Kamal the attraction is instant. He’s enchanting, charismatic and she can’t wait to set up a new life with him in India. Both their families are against the union but Caroline is convinced they’ll come round, especially when she gives birth to a beautiful daughter, Asha.

Asha is an adorable child but Caroline, homesick and beginning to hate the remote Indian village they live in, struggles with motherhood. Kamal is hardly ever there and she feels more and more isolated. In the grips of severe depression Caroline flees back to America, leaving Asha behind.

Ten years later …

Caroline recovered from her illness, is consumed by thoughts of the daughter she abandoned. Desperate to find Asha, she reunites with Kamal, intent on tracking her down. Will they ever be able to find their lost daughter? If they have any chance, they must confront the painful truths of the past and a terrible secret that has been kept for many years, until now.


TobacconistThe Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler

When seventeen-year-old Franz exchanges his home in the idyllic beauty of the Austrian lake district for the bustle of Vienna, his homesickness quickly dissolves amidst the thrum of the city. In his role as apprentice to the elderly tobacconist Otto Trsnyek, he will soon be supplying the great and good of Vienna with their newspapers and cigarettes. Among the regulars is a Professor Freud, whose predilection for cigars and occasional willingness to dispense romantic advice will forge a bond between him and young Franz.

It is 1937. In a matter of months Germany will annex Austria and the storm that has been threatening to engulf the little tobacconist will descend, leaving the lives of Franz, Otto and Professor Freud irredeemably changed.


Into the North WindInto the North Wind by Jill Homer

“Into the North Wind” chronicles Jill Homer’s record-breaking bicycle ride across Alaska on the Iditarod Trail. Jill is one of those “accidental athletes” who stumbled into endurance racing shortly after she moved to Alaska in 2005. After a hundred miles, her first race only scratched the surface of the historic trail that spans a vast and frozen wilderness. Ever since, she dreamed about the chiming of ice crystals at thirty below zero, black spruce shadows in the moonlight, the ethereal dance of the Northern Lights, and a journey that could take her deeper into this transcendental world — the thousand-mile race to Nome.

After ten years of dreaming, she finally made the leap in 2016. Fitness, however, remained elusive as ambitious preparations left a wake of failures, sickness and injury. Even the existence of the trail remained in question — throughout the winter, Alaska experienced unprecedented heat waves and snow melt that threatened to render the Iditarod Trail impassable. By the time Jill lined up at the start, she was ready to chuck her dream into the barely-frozen lake.

Instead, she pedaled across waterlogged ice, repeating her mantra of “one day at a time.” This account is not just a story about seeking beauty, overcoming setbacks and uncovering hidden strength — it’s a journey into the benevolent heart of the coldest, loneliest trail.


Hardback Purchases

Jacob's RoomJacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill (signed edition)

When we spend so much of our time immersed in books, who’s to say where reading ends and living begins? The two are impossibly and gloriously wedded, as Hill shows in Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books.

Considering everything from Edith Wharton’s novels through to Alan Bennett’s diaries, Virginia Woolf and the writings of twelfth century monk Aelred of Rievaulx, Susan Hill charts a year of her life through the books she has read, reread or returned to the shelf. From beneath a shady tree in a hot French summer, or the warmth of a kitchen during an English winter, Hill reflects on what her reading throws up, from writing and writers to politics and religion, as well as the joy of dandies or the pleasure of watching a line of geese cross a meadow.

Full of wry observations and warm humour, as well as strong opinions freely aired, this is a rare and wonderful insight into the rich world of reading from one of the nation’s most accomplished authors.

Five on Friday with Gina Kirkham @GinaGeeJay



Today I’m delighted to welcome my friend and  late night Twitter buddy Gina Kirkham. If it’s Gina that’s answered the questions we’re probably safe, but if her alter-ego Mavis has turned up – anything can happen!

Author Bio:

Gina was born during the not-so-swinging 50’s to a mum who frequently abandoned her in a pram outside Woolworths and a dad who, after two pints of beer, could play a mean Boogie Woogie on the piano in the front room of their 3-bed semi on the Wirral. Being the less adventurous of three children, she remains there to this day – apart from a long weekend in Bognor Regis in 1982.

Her teenage years were filled with angst, a CSE in Arithmetic, pimples, PLJ juice, Barry White and rather large knickers. Marriage and motherhood ensued, quickly followed by divorce in her early thirties and a desperate need for a career and some form of financial support for herself and her daughter. Trundling a bicycle along a leafy path one wintry day, a lifelong passion to be a police officer gave her simultaneously an epiphany and fond memories of her favourite author Enid Blyton and moments of solving mysteries.

And thus began an enjoyable and fulfilling career with Merseyside Police.

On reaching an age most women lie about, she quickly adapted to retirement by utilising her policing skills to chase after two granddaughters, two dogs and one previously used, but still in excellent condition, husband. Having said goodbye to what had been a huge part of her life, she suddenly had another wonderful epiphany. This time it was to put pen to paper to write a book based on her experiences as a police officer.

Lying in bed one night, staring at the ceiling and contemplating life as she knew it, Gina’s alter-ego, Mavis Upton was born, ready to star in a humorous and sometimes poignant look at the life, loves and career of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream and embarked upon a search for the missing piece of her childhood.

So let’s find out what Gina thinks :-


Which 5 pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?


Moon River.  My Dad was an amazing pianist and he used to play this for me all the time.  It conjures up my happy childhood.

Time in a Bottle – Jim Croche.  Although I love this song, it also fills me with so much sadness.  It reminds me of my mum.  When she was in the final stages of terminal cancer and couldn’t sleep, we would stay up all night talking, putting the world, and her own world to rights.  She wanted more time to be able to do all the things she had put off to ‘another day’.  We always think there will be time for those things, we procrastinate and hope for tomorrow.  Sometimes that tomorrow is not promised or destined to be.  I still wish I could have grabbed all the time in the world to bottle and give it to her, just to keep her with me just that little bit longer.

Smile – Nat King Cole.  I think this song sums me up perfectly.  I have always been able to find the ability, no matter how hard things are for me, to be able to smile.  My smile sometimes belies what my heart is feeling.  My mum was a huge believer in smiling your troubles away.

You’re the First, the Last, My Everything – Barry White. I fell in love for the first time to this track when I was fourteen.  We kissed in the back jigger near his house, which although terribly exciting, resulted in me rushing to the local chemists to frantically thumb through an information booklet whilst hiding behind the extra-large incontinence pants and castor oil.  By paragraph 3, I was relieved to find that swapping spit couldn’t make me pregnant or give me athletes foot or a hairy tongue.  I did notice however that I had developed hairy legs but this may have been just an unlucky coincidence.

Have I told you lately that I love you – Van Morrison.  This has a very special place in my heart as it’s the song that my hubby and I fell in love to.  Anyone who knows John, knows that he doesn’t dance, but in the course of wooing me, he managed to force himself to shuffle around the dance floor several times whilst dragging me with him.  I don’t think his feet have touched a disco floor since!


Highlight 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.


My Spanx ‘squish-it-all-in’ pants have got to be top of my list, they have never let me down.  Actually, I’ve just remembered, that’s a little bit untrue.  Whilst at a friend’s wedding, two pints of orange juice, three wines and a Gin & Tonic meant a quick extraction was required.  Unfortunately, excessive perspiration after dancing The Time Warp meant they’d stuck fast and wouldn’t roll down leaving me jiggling for dear life in the toilet cubicle.  In sheer desperation, I had to borrow a pair of scissors from the barman to cut them off.  I spent the rest of the night going commando with a pair of shredded Spanx shoved in my handbag.

My mascara comes a very close second followed by my lipstick.  I’ve instructed my hubby that should I unexpectedly expire during the night, he is to apply two coats to both top and bottom lashes and a slick of lippy before the undertakers arrive to take me away.  

My books, I just couldn’t imagine my life without words and the magic of escapism they bring and finally…

My garden. I love gardening, planting something so small and watching it grow into something so beautiful along with the wildlife it attracts, is wonderful.  I’ve even got a family of mice living in the sandstone walls by the waterfall.   My books go hand in hand with my garden.  It’s the perfect place to read…. when it’s not raining!

Invisible Bra Straps.  These amazing creations allow me to wear an array of off the shoulder/strappy tops without showing the world the grey, frayed straps of my usual bra. Unfortunately what they don’t tell you in the advertising blurb is that when the plastic straps warm up from the heat of your skin, they stretch.

I start the day with norks at a level any 20-year old would be proud of but four hours later they’re splayed out over my desk completely obscuring the space bar on my keyboard or leisurely chaffing my kneecaps as I stroll to the coffee machine for a latte. Still couldn’t live without them though!


Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?


Gosh, that’s a difficult one.  There are so many things I wish I could have approached with an older head.

Never be defined by other people’s perceptions and expectations of you.  I have spent my whole life feeling I was never quite good enough, which subsequently made me constantly seek approval from everyone else, rather than be happy in my own skin with my own achievements.  Even to this day, and I’m fast approaching my 60th year, I still seek validation and worth from others.

Smoking!!  I would definitely smack my younger self over the back of the head with Tolstoy’s War and Peace just as I was about to take my first puff on a cigarette.  After 35 years of being a smoker, I finally gave up nine years ago.  

It’s okay to be different. It would be a very boring world if we were all the same, I think our differences should be happily celebrated.  I would tell the younger me to stop trying to be something or someone I wasn’t, just to fit in.

Travel the world.  I would pack my younger self’s bags and send her off on an adventure rather than allow her to spend her youth being comfortable & safe at home.

Put your Diddybooby Fund in a high interest bank account rather than a Bell’s Whisky Bottle!

I know it’s a standing joke with my book character, Mavis, who has ‘humongous nellies’ but it is one trait that we both share.  I had the misfortune to sprout them at the age of eleven and they’ve been the bane of my life ever since.  I started saving at the age of 18 for a reduction, thinking it would be the answer to my prayers. I had happy visions of running to Sainsbury’s without giving myself two black eyes and sore kneecaps and not knocking several tubs of yoghurt off the shelf when reaching for the margarine in the chiller section.

Unfortunately, by the time I’d saved enough in my various booze bottles in the wardrobe, the price had gone up.  In a fit of pique, I spent the money on a cheap holiday, and to this day I’ve still got humongous nellies, albeit they are considerably lower than they were in 1978 whilst bouncing across the sands in Ibiza.


Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you.


I have a terrible fear of heights which I discovered whilst I was halfway across Blackpool Pier. I suddenly realised I could see through the slats in the boardwalk and became frozen to the spot.  Two hours later I was eventually brought back to concrete by wheelchair, after my rescuers had dumped some poor Octogenarian out of it and onto a nearby bench to accommodate me. To this day I still can’t climb metal grated steps/stairs or gantries without freezing like a myotonic goat.

I can’t ride a bicycle without falling off if it hasn’t got a set of stabilisers.  I had a three-wheeler once with a bin on the back, I was okay riding that until I smashed into a brick wall at the end of the road and swallowed the elastic hairband I was chewing at the time.  Two weeks waiting for it to reappear traumatised me that much it put me of bikes for life.

I’m incredibly self-conscious and hate having my photograph taken.  The antics I got up to trying to get one for my book cover was hilarious.  I even ended up at one point sitting on the toilet with the ambient light behind me.  I still looked dreadful!

I’m addicted to Lions Licorice Gums.  Home Bargains have them for 39p a pack, I’m in seventh heaven but frequently do regret the side effects of eating four bags in one sitting!

I have a long term joint disease which causes varying degrees of pain for me every day. I take a drug called Leflunomide which bans the partaking of alcohol.  I sometimes conveniently forget this fact when offered a glass of wine and I’ve been known to suffer complete amnesia when shown a bottle of Gin!


What are the first 5 things you’d have on your bucket list?


Go to Venice and Florence

Visit Port Isaac where Doc Martin is filmed

Take my daughter and Granddaughters to Disneyland Paris

Take up Yoga

To be carefree and confident enough to wear my hair down for the first time in forty years (now that would surprise my hubby!)


As ever Gina, you never fail to make me smile. Thanks so much for taking part and good shout with ‘Time in a Bottle’ it’s a favourite of mine too.


o – 0 – o


If Gina’s approach to life has entertained you, I suggest you meet up with her alter-ego Mavis Upton as soon as possible. My review is in the pipeline.



Meet Mavis Upton.

As mummy to 7-year old Ella, surrogate to far too many pets and with a failed marriage under her belt, Mavis knows she needs to make some life-changing decisions. It’s time to strike out into the world, to stand on her own two feet … to pursue a lifelong ambition to become a Police Officer.

I mean, what could go wrong?

Supported by her quirky, malapropism-suffering mum, Mavis throws herself headlong into a world of uncertainty, self-discovery, fearless escapades, laughter and extra-large knickers. And using her newly discovered investigative skills, she reluctantly embarks on a search to find her errant dad who was last seen years before, making off with her mum’s much needed coupon for a fabulous foam cup bra all the way from America. Follow Mavis as she tackles everything life can throw at her, and revel in Gina Kirkham’s humorous, poignant and moving story of an everyday girl who one day followed a dream.


You can catch up with Gina on her website, Facebook and Twitter. If you’re feeling brave you can also follow Mavis on Twitter.

#ThrowbackThursday – The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel – 4*s @kristinharmel #Review

Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk. Throwback Thursday was designed as an opportunity to share old favorites as well as older books in our TBR. As I started reviewing on Goodreads long before I started my blog, it seemed a great way of sharing my earlier reviews (which I hope have improved since the early days).

So this week I’m revisiting  The Life Intended by Kristin Harmel – first reviewed in February 2015.

Life intended

After her husband’s sudden death over ten years ago, Kate Westhoven never expected to be lucky enough to find another love of her life. But now she’s planning her second walk down the aisle to a perfectly nice man. So why isn’t she more excited?

At first, Kate blames her pre-wedding jitters on stress. But when she starts seeing Patrick, her late husband, in her dreams, she begins to wonder if she’s really ready to move on. Is Patrick trying to tell her something about his death and is there a chance his nighttime visits could be more than just wishful thinking?

My Review

Having been widowed for over 10 years, Kath becomes engaged to Dan only to start having serious doubts about their compatibility. Family and friends assume this is due nerves because they are not initially aware of Kate’s dreams about Patrick (her dead husband), dreams that she sees as a warning that things are not as they should be.

This book has an intriguing plot that draws you in and has you believing the unbelievable as Kate’s dreams suggest she has a parallel life that is being lived on some other plane. It was well written and the characters so well drawn that if I’m honest I wanted it to be true. She was clearly so in love with Patrick that it would be difficult for anyone to compete so Dan really would have had his work cut out, whether suitable or not.

The dreams make Kate think about a lot of things, and the book is really about coping with grief, the nature of love and learning to accept what life throws up. Moving forward does not mean forgetting the past, but accepting that experiences make us what we are and making the most of our opportunities. It is not a live life to the max philosophy but a live life to achieve your potential. It is book about fulfillment and living the life intended. This makes it sound quite worthy and preachy which it is not. It is in turns funny and touching and just for good measure has some romance as well. Well worth reading.

Book Haul 2 weeks ended 30 September 2017

Despite an intermittent WiFi while on holiday I still managed to acquire more books than are probably good for me – so business as usual.

Kindle Purchases


On Turtle BeachOn Turtle Beach by Lynne Fisher

Struggling artist, Lucy, and her successful sister, Rhea, make the bold decision to go on holiday together to Dalyan in Turkey, to try to heal their relationship and so fulfil their father’s dying wish. But despite their best efforts, the bereaved sisters soon realise that Lucy’s passionate nature and Rhea’s restraint means it’s difficult to find comfortable common ground. Lucy wants to bond, but Rhea would rather read her novel. When Lucy tries to get Rhea to talk about their childhood and why their relationship suddenly deteriorated, Rhea refuses to discuss it and Lucy becomes suspicious Rhea is hiding something.

Against the backdrop of the beautiful turtle beach, tensions soon escalate between them, while other characters help or hinder, and Lucy is finally forced to come up with a plan to get her sister to open up. She plots to get Rhea alone and stranded where there will be no escape. Can Lucy discover what family secrets her sister is hiding, the revealing of which could actually threaten to destroy them both?


Orange Blossom DaysOrange Blossom Days by Patricia Scanlan

In a beautiful southern Spanish town, where the sea sparkles and orange blossoms scent the air, the gates of a brand new apartment complex, La Joya de Andalucía, glide open to welcome the new owners. 

Anna and Austen MacDonald, an Irish couple, are preparing to enjoy their retirement to the full. But the demands of family cause problems they have never foreseen and shake their marriage to the core.  

Sally-Ann Connolly Cooper, a feisty Texan mother of two young teenagers, is reeling from her husband’s infidelity. La Joya becomes a place of solace for Sally-Ann, in more ways than one.

Eduardo Sanchez, a haughty Madrileño, has set out with single-minded determination to become El Presidente of the complex’s management committee. But pride comes before a fall.

Jutta Sauer Perez, a sophisticated German who aspires to own her very own apartment in La Joya, works hard to reach her goal. Then the unthinkable happens.

As their lives entwine and friendships and enmities develop, it becomes apparent that La Joya is not quite the haven they all expect it to be…


Meet me at Willoughby CloseMeet me at Willoughby Close by Kate Hewitt

Welcome to Willoughby Close… a charming cluster of cozy cottages, each with a story to tell and a happy ending to deliver…

Ellie Matthews has come to Wychwood-on-Lea to find a new start for her and her daughter Abby. But, life there doesn’t start out as idyllic as she had hoped. While Ellie loves her cute cottage in Willoughby Close, the Yummy Mummies at the primary school seem intent on giving her the cold shoulder, Abby has trouble fitting in, and her boss, Oliver Venables, is both surprisingly sexy and irritatingly inscrutable.

But miracles can happen in the most unexpected places, and in small, yet wonderful ways. Slowly, Ellie and Abby find themselves making friends and experiencing the everyday magic of Willoughby Close. When Oliver’s nephew, Tobias, befriends Abby, the four of them start to feel like family… and Ellie begins to see the kindness and warmth beneath Oliver’s chilly exterior, which awakens both her longing and fear.

Ellie knows all about disappointment, and the pain of trying too hard for nothing, while Oliver has his own hurts and secrets to deal with. When the past comes rollicking back to remind both of them of their weaknesses and failings, will they be able to overcome their fears and find their own happy ending?


ArrangementThe Arrangement by Sonya Lalli

Would you let your grandmother play matchmaker?

You can’t choose who you fall for…but it helps if there’s a list

When you’re approaching thirty it’s normal (if not incredibly annoying) for your family to ask when you’ll tie the knot and settle down. But for Raina there’s a whole community waiting for someone to make her a wife – and a loving grandmother, Nani, ready to play matchmaker with a comprehensive list of potential husbands.

Eager not to disappoint her family, Raina goes along with the plan but when the love of her life returns – ex-boyfriend Dev – she’s forced to confront her true feelings. Now her ‘clock is ticking’, it’s time for Raina to decide what she actually wants.

Will Raina let her family decide her future, or can she forge her own path?


Lies WithinThe Lies Within by Jane Isaac

Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner… This woman is guilty of murder.

Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss.

DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.

When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before she is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?


Sea of StrawA Sea of Straw by Julia Sutton

Set in the 1960s, the story of Jody, her little daughter Anna and Zé, veers between an unhappy marriage in the North of England and a journey to find love amid the vivid landscapes of Portugal, while exposing the darkest shadows of Europe’s longest-running dictatorship. A Sea of Straw is a haunting debut that will linger in the memory.




ThreatThreat by Hugh Fraser

‘How far would you go to protect the innocent?’
London 1961. In the dying days of the Macmillan government, George Preston is in control of crime in West London and Rina Walker is his favoured contract killer. When Rina is hired by Soho vice king Tony Farina to investigate the disappearance of girls from his clubs she discovers that they are being supplied to a member of the English aristocracy for the gratification of his macabre sexual tastes. Rina’s pursuit of the missing girls and her efforts to save the innocent from slaughter become increasingly perilous as she grapples with interwoven layers of corruption and betrayal and makes her way, via the louche nightclubs of Berlin, towards a final confrontation with depravity.


Running with BullsRunning with the Bulls by David Kitching

Imagine languishing on your death bed. In your fevered state you judge yourself. You’ve led a pretty decent life, worked hard, always provided for the family. But there’s one thing missing. A country you never visited perhaps, an activity or experience you never got to try. Something you always wanted to do but life and duty got in the way. How would you feel? Helpless, frustrated, angry with yourself even ….

At the premature funeral of his best friend the author has a revelation, an epiphany. He decides enough is enough. His fateful decision launches him on a marathon trip of self-discovery spanning Patagonia to Easter Island. If this book is anything, it’s about the importance of achieving your goals in life whilst you still can. It’s about ensuring you never look back in anger.


HomeHome by Harlan Coben

For ten long years two boys have been missing.

Now you think you’ve seen one of them.

He’s a young man. And he’s in trouble.

Do you approach him?
Ask him to come home with you?
And how can you be sure it’s really him?

You thought your search for the truth was over.
It’s only just begun.


Hope to DieHope to Die by David Jackson

On a bitterly cold winter’s night, Liverpool is left stunned by a brutal murder in the grounds of the city’s Anglican Cathedral. A killer is on the loose, driven by a chilling rage.

Put on the case, DS Nathan Cody is quickly stumped. Wherever he digs, the victim seems to be almost angelic – no-one has a bad word to say, let alone a motive for such a violent murder.

And Cody has other things on his mind too. The ghosts of his past are coming ever closer, and – still bearing the physical and mental scars – it’s all he can do to hold onto his sanity.

And then the killer strikes again . . .


Englishwoman in ParisAn Englishwoman in Paris by Jenny O’Brien

Englishwoman in Paris; the new romance series from Jenny O’Brien, writer of the popular Ideal Girl Trilogy. For Downton Abbey fans (Second Edition, published August, 2017) NB: Free prequel now available, ‘Englishman in Blackpool’. 

22 year old Lady Sarah Cosgrave is a student at the Sorbonne and heiress to millions, but only if she’s engaged by the time she reaches 23. She’s in urgent need of a fake boyfriend to appease her parents. Anyone will do as long as he has long vowels and a long pocket.
Handsome French builder, Pascal de Sauvarin is neither, but as he’s the only man available he’ll have to do. Can their love overcome the demands polite society throws at it or will she be forced to marry rancid Rupert?


Turning BlueTurning Blue by Benjamin Myers

The depths of winter in the isolated Yorkshire Dales and a teenage girl is missing.

Steven Rutter, a destitute loner, harbours secrets. Nobody knows the bleak moors better than him, or their hiding places.

Obsessive, taciturn and solitary, DS Brindle is relentless in pursuing justice. But he is not alone in his growing preoccupation with the case. Local journalist Roddy Mace has moved north from London to build a new life. Can this assignment be his redemption?

As Brindle and Mace begin to prise the secrets of the case from tight-lipped locals, their investigation leads first to the pillars of the community and finally to a local celebrity and fixture of the nation’s Saturday-night TV. ‘Lovely Larry’ Lister has his own hiding places, and his own dark tastes.


Seven LettersThe Seven Letters by Jan Harvey

When Claudette Bourvil is recruited to the French Resistance the last thing she expects is that she will be sent to work in the heart of Paris to spy on senior Nazi officers.

Claudette learns how to survive in a city ravaged by war, where the citizens are murdered on the whim of the occupying force. Constantly under threat of discovery, and in danger of losing her life, Claudette risks everything when she falls in love with the wrong man, the worst kind of man.

Over seventy years later, in rural Oxfordshire, Connie Webber discovers seven letters linked to a famous playwright, Freddy March. The letters will eventually lead her to Paris where she discovers the horrific reason behind Freddy’s life long depression. As his mother’s story unfolds Connie uncovers a dark past that the city has tried to erase from history.


Lost DaughtersThe Lost Daughters by Jeanne Whitmee

Children of single parents in post-war London, Cathy Oldham and Rosalind Blair’s young lives are blighted by loss. As the 1960s begin, and her loving father Daniel dies, Cathy is left in the care of her godfather Gerald Cavelle, a glamorous concert pianist. She and Gerald marry but the security she craves continues to elude Cathy: confined to their remote hideaway in Suffolk, she feels lonelier than ever before. Rosalind, too, finds the transition to adulthood fraught with difficulty. Even her hard-won career in hotel management looks threatened by her mother’s domineering theatrical ways. Then an unexpected reunion with Cathy gives her new impetus to break free. Together, they enter the hazardous world of business — and start to become independent women…


Long Way HomeThe Long Way Home by Jeanne Whitmee

Nothing can replace a mother’s love… 

The cruel betrayal of the man she loves forces Marie O’Connor to make the heartbreaking decision to give up her twin daughters at birth. And so begin Leah and Sarah’s personal stories. 

Separated from one another a mere few days after their birth, the two girls reach adulthood unaware of a twin sister and their tragic background. Shifted from one foster home to another, Leah is finally brought up by misguided parents trying to replace the loss of their own daughter. And Sarah is adopted by an adoring couple who smother her with love.

But neither girl feels she truly belongs. 

Then – after an explosive row – the rebellious Leah is sent packing. Realising what she has been missing all along, Leah leaves home, determined to find her natural mother and uncover her past. 

Meanwhile, Marie has picked up the tattered threads of her life and achieved a successful career running a chain of hotels on the South-East coast. But hardly a day goes past by without her thinking of her lost little girls. 

It is not until the past and present come together in one terrifying moment of reckoning, that Marie and her daughters are free to share the love they have so long denied. But with all three women being strangers, can they trust one another to put the past behind and become a family?


Certain AgeA Certain Age by Beatriz Williams

New York in the Roaring Twenties – a time for love, secrets and scandal…

As the freedom of the Jazz Age transforms New York City, the iridescent Mrs Theresa Marshall of Fifth Avenue – a beautiful socialite of a certain age – has done the unthinkable: she’s fallen in love with her young lover, Captain Octavian Rofrano, a handsome aviator and hero of the Great War. But though times are changing, divorce for a woman of Theresa’s wealth and social standing is out of the question.

When Theresa’s bachelor brother, Ox, decides to tie the knot with the youngest daughter of a newly wealthy inventor, Theresa enlists her lover to present the family’s diamond rose ring to pretty ingénue, Miss Sophie Fortescue – and to check into the background of this little-known family. Yet even as he uncovers a shocking secret, Octavian falls under Sophie’s spell…

Divided loyalties and dangerous revelations lead to a shocking transgression and eventually Theresa must make a choice that will change them all forever.


Under Heaven's Shining StarsUnder Heaven’s Shining Stars by Jean Grainger

One is poor but loved. Another born with a silver spoon. The last has seen too much.

For three young boys, Liam, Patrick, and Hugo, life in Ireland of the 1960s proves to be both idyllic and flawed. Living in close proximity but leading vastly different lives, the bonds of friendship bind these young men as they grow, dream, and navigate the storms of youth.
In a world where the Catholic Church is a looming and pervasive presence, the dreamy ideal of childhood is staunchly contrasted against the backdrop of suffering and darkness in the lives of these three boys. Will their friendship be enough to weather the gale? Or will their separate struggles tear them apart?
In Under Heaven’s Shining Stars, author Jean Grainger brings to life the struggles and simplicity that often go hand-in-hand with growing up. Experience the gambit of emotion as you witness the journey of Liam, Patrick, and Hugo as they face the beauty, turmoil, and endless possibilities of life under the turbulent Irish sky.


UnseeingThe Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

Set in London in 1837, Anna Mazzola’s THE UNSEEING is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding. Perfect for any reader of Sarah Waters or Antonia Hodgson.

After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?




August/September’s Urbane Book Club unwrapped (@urbanepub)

Just back from holiday to find a nice little parcel awaiting my return.  A quiet couple of month’s on the publication front, but all goodies none the less. Matthew informs us that things ramp up again next month so watch this space!

Premier League

Buy from Amazon or Urbane

The Premier League 25 years by Lloyd Pettiford

The 2016/17 season marked the 25th of the Premier League. This book recognises that fact in a way which is factually accurate yet dismissive of reputations and hype. It recognises the achievements of Swindon and Barnsley as much as Manchester United and Chelsea, and sneaks in references to borg drones from Star Trek, Oscar Wilde, Nirvana and Red Dwarf alongside analysis of the songs and seasons. Notts County fan Billy Ivory’s foreword sets a tone of bitter irony as the story (shocked back to life by Leicester City) is told in unconventional fashion. Fans of all 49 teams who’ve been involved in Premier League have their say, except for Huddersfield (due to publishing deadlines), although we feel sure Patrick Stewart will want this one for Christmas…The Premier League charts each of the 25 seasons with the story of how the titles were won and the players who starred. From 2011/12’s incredible finale, to Arsenal’s “Invincibles”, as well as each of Manchester United’s record 13 triumphs, find out more about the rich history of the Premier League.


Veteran Avenue

Buy from Amazon or Urbane

Veteran Avenue by Mark Pepper

1978. On vacation from England, eight-year-old John Frears is befriended by a stranger in the Oregon wilderness and stolen away from his parents. After a bizarre hour spent in a log cabin, he is sent back with a picture of a young girl. 

2013. Since leaving the military, John Frears has been drifting, unable to settle. Then he gets word that a funeral is taking place in LA. Donnie Chester, fellow veteran of the first Gulf War, has been shot dead. He decides to head to the States to pay his respects then go sightseeing. It is a simple plan, in keeping with his life to date. 

But his life is about to become more complicated than he could ever imagine. The mysterious event from his past crashes into the present, and could mean the difference between life and death.


No Way Back

Buy from Amazon or Urbane

No Way Back by Kelly Florentia

When two eligible and attractive men are vying for your heart, it should be the perfect dilemma…

Audrey Fox has been dumped by her unreliable fiancé Nick Byrne just days before the wedding. Heartbroken and confused, the last thing she expects when she jumps on a plane to convalesce in Cyprus is romance. But a chance meeting with handsome entrepreneur and father-of-one Daniel Taylor weaves her into a dating game she’s not sure she’s ready for. Audrey’s life is thrown into further turmoil when she discovers on her return to London that Nick has been involved in a serious motorcycle accident that’s left him in intensive care. Distraught yet determined to look to the future, Audrey must make a decision – follow her heart or listen to well-meaning advice from family and friends? Because sometimes, no matter what, it’s the people that we love who can hurt us the most…




A full year of Urbane books – hot off the press!

From fiction to biography, politics to childrens, you’ll have a unique collection of books and more.

As an Urbane Book Club member you’ll receive a print and ebook edition of every new Urbane title published from the date you join for an entire year. Urbane currently publishes around 5 books a month

You’ll receive a 75% discount on any further purchases of Urbane titles through the Urbane website, including the entire backlist – all with free p&p in the UK

You’ll receive exclusive invitations to Urbane events and author signings

Each member will have the chance to receive pre-publication scripts of forthcoming titles

Every member will be able to book exclusive one-to-one writing and publishing sessions at a significant discount

All for the ridiculously low price of £99.99!