alison mercer after i left you 1Title: After I Left You

Author: Alison Mercer

Pages: 432 Pages

Publisher: Black Swan

The Blurb

Every broken heart has a history.

Anna hasn’t been back to Oxford since her last summer at university. She tries not to think about her time there, or the tightly knit group of friends she once thought would be hers forever. She has almost forgotten the sting of betrayal, the secret she carries around, the last night she spent with them all.

Then a chance meeting on a rainy day in London brings her past tumbling back into her present. . . Can Anna finally face up to the memories of that summer and the people she left behind?

An absorbing, powerful novel of love, friendship and secrets that sweeps you away from the very first page. The perfect read for fans of Lisa Jewell, Liane Moriarty and Jane Fallon.

(Amazon Blurb)

The Review

Anna Jones is 18 years old and has been accepted into the prodigious Oxford University to read English. As she embarks on this new educational adventure she knows no one, she is shy and a little unsure of herself and she doesn’t seem to fit in with the elite circle of students compromised by Victor, Meg, Barnaby, Clarissa and Keith; that is until one day she is invited into the fold.

However, things – and people – aren’t necessarily all that they seem.

After I Left You is a story steeped in mystery and intrigue. It is told from two different time perspectives yet both from the protagonist Anna’s point of view. Throughout the novel Mercer maintains the suspense and keeps the reader wanting to read the next chapter to find out what is about to happen. She has created a wonderful cast of characters that you can love and hate in equal measure as she masterfully reveals their idiosyncratic quirks and traits.

What Mercer manages to do is give you a fly on the wall perspective of what life appears to be like in a prodigious college atmosphere. If I had to liken it to another book I would say that After I Left You has the same mood and allure of The Secret History but in a much more accessible way. The secrets and lies naturally draw you in as the lives of the privileged few eek out onto the page.

One thing that initially did take me by surprise was the speedy exposition. There is no gentle ride to the main drama of the story. From the first page you are thrown in. I wasn’t expecting that, however, on reflection I can see why this was necessary. Within the first few lines Anna is confronted with her past, a past that she has, up until now, managed to leave there. For me, this made the story more real. We didn’t get to wistfully become acquainted with Anna and then hit with a stumbling block; it all came as part of one big package. We learn about whom Anna is, her past and her present all at the same time.

This really is a wonderful read and the descriptive nature of Mercer’s writing paints a gorgeous picture. I am looking forward to reading other her other novels and seeing what else she is capable of.

After I Left You by Alison Mercer is available now.

Follow Alison Mercer (@AlisonLMercer) and visit her official website www.alisonmercerwriter.com.

3 Stars

 

memory bookTitle: The Memory Book

Author: Rowan Coleman

Pages: 384 Pages

Publisher: Ebury Press

The Blurb

The name of your first-born. The face of your lover. Your age. Your address…

What would happen if your memory of these began to fade?

Is it possible to rebuild your life? Raise a family? Fall in love again?

When Claire starts to write her Memory Book, she already knows that this scrapbook of mementoes will soon be all her daughters and husband have of her. But how can she hold on to the past when her future is slipping through her fingers…?

Original, heartwarming and uplifting, The Memory Book is perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

(Amazon Blurb)

The Review

Meet Claire. She is in her 40s. She is married with two daughters, Caitlyn and Esther and she has early onset Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman is the heartbreaking story of Claire Armstrong who is battling with a degenerative illness that she has inherited from her father’s side of the family. Every day she wakes up unsure whether she will have a good or bad day; whether she will be lucid in the present or lingering in the past; whether or not her mind will be able to recognise her loved ones.

The multi-perspective story explores the debilitating effects of AD on not only the patient but also on the patient’s family and loved ones. We see how Ruth, Claire’s mother has to watch her daughter go through the same regression that her beloved husband went through before he succumb to the disease.

We watch Caitlyn as her life mimics her mother’s life when she was in her early 20s. Her struggle seems all the more brutal because she needs her mother now more than ever but only sees her own problems as an extra burden on a family already struggling under the weight of their circumstances.

And then there is Greg, Claire’s husband who watches his wife become a stranger on a daily basis. She forgets who he is, what connection he has to her and most hurtfully that he is the love of her life. Greg continually gets lost in the fog of Claire’s condition and it is truly heartbreaking.

I don’t claim to know a lot about Alzheimer’s Disease but what I do know is that it is a wretched disease not only for the person who has been diagnosed with it but also for their family. What Coleman has managed to do with such acute verisimilitude is to beautifully present a heartbreaking yet heart warming story of a family fighting to come to terms with a diagnosis that does not have a positive outcome. It is this skill and tenacity of storytelling that made this book a real eye-opener and a privilege to read. If you haven’t read this book then add it to your nightstand pile of books immediately.

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman is available for purchase.

Follow Rowan Coleman (@rowancoleman) on Twitter and for more information visit her official website www.rowancoleman.co.uk.

For more titles from Ebury Publishing (@EburyPublishing) please visit the official website www.eburypublishing.co.uk.

4 Stars

 

Ok. So this may be controversial to many people but I truly believe that Grease 2 is one of the greatest movies of all time. Ever. I don’t just mean better than Grease (although it evidently is way better than its predecessor) but better than most movies. By this I don’t mean that it is a technically brilliant film without laws or that the acting is in any way shape or form any good but it is one of those films, which for me, is just perfection. Here are the things that I learnt from watching Grease 2 and the many reasons why I love this movie.

1) I have learnt that singing the hearty chorus of Back to School will make you hate your employees if you work in a school but it will make going back after six week of being off for the summer that little bit more bearable. That “the board of education took away my parole” was the first reason that I decided that I had to hate “the man” – one could even argue that this is a political movie.

2) Not only is Grease 2 entertaining but it is educational too. My introduction into sex education came from the song Reproduction, and I learnt the grammatical rule for whom – “To who, to whom. To you that’s whom.” I also learnt that “certainer” isn’t a word but that more certain is the adequate way to quantify the word.

3) The correct way to intimidate rival gangs is to pull mean faces and to comb your hair.

grease_2_t_birds  Pink ladies

4) Bowling is a euphemism for sex. Yes, nothing is sexier than rental shoes.

5) A girl who bowls whilst wearing gold lamée leggings can cause a case of nymphoidmania to horny teenage boys. However, bowling without putting your fingers in the bowling ball holes will save the girl from breaking her nails.

6) Talking about comic books with popular girls will probably not make them fall in love with you but if you pretend to be something that you are not AKA a Cool Rider you will probably win her heart…but leave the superhero talk for when you get to know each other better.

7) All earthquakes are caused by Biker Boys. You’re gonna know it when he gets there because the ground…it will be shaking.

8) Anyone who plays a red hot accordion probably won’t win a talent show.

9) I also learnt that unless you are in one of the two cool gangs in school you are going to get a shockingly bad set design for your talent show. I’ve also learnt that you can be in a motorcycle or be a motorcycle gang bangers girlfriend but no rival gang will mess with you about being in a talent show.

10) Even if you have a mental breakdown on stage and ruin your girl group’s song and essentially their chances to win a talent competition, there is no need to fret. You will still win the competition…mainly because your teachers will fear gang related rioting. Let me explain…

Ok, in the pivotal scene of Grease 2, Stephanie Zinoni waits outside the school on the night of the talent show for her Cool Rider whose name she still doesn’t know and whom she still hasn’t guessed is actually the geeky exchange student from England, Michael Carrington – mainly due to his new devil in skin tight leathers look, motorbike and safety goggles.

grease2-1 disguise

As he approaches Rydal High the T-Birds see him and threaten that this time they are going to get him. They give chase and Stephanie grabs the Pink Ladies who then start following the T-Birds. Whilst in the car following the T-Birds, Pink Lady Sharon worries that she will die wearing her mother’s underwear. Wearing your mother’s underwear is never acceptable.

Sadly, Michael Carrington AKA The Cool Rider is driven off the road into a dangerous ditch believed never to be seen again. Paulette tries to reassure Stephanie that Mr Cool Rider will be ok because he jumped over a car at the Bowl-A-Rama and that was a really big jump.

We get to see a few acts on the talent show that all have demonstrably crap sets but when the T-Birds perform they blow the audience away with the mediocre and misogynist song. But wait, don’t hand over that prize just yet. The girls, lead by the Pink Ladies own Sharon, perform A Girl for All Seasons. This should have been the winning performance. However, midway through the song Stephanie Zinoni (who is the girl for December and is currently dressed as a Christmas tree) is overcome with grief and stops singing mid-song. Seemingly she has forgotten the words. The shock of the sudden (and supposed) death of the Cool Rider has sent her into a musical catatonia and the chanteuse breaks out into her own song – (Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time.

Grease-2-grease-2-6068240-1600-900 christmas

Ok, so I know this should anger me because in theory A Girl for All Seasons is still playing but Stephanie Zinoni is now singing her own song. Oh but it gets much worse because halfway through the song Stephanie stops singing. It turns out her song is in fact a duet with the believed to be deceased Cool Rider. So besides singing a different song to the wrong tune with a dead guy, they both stop and talk through the song and then to top it all off Stephanie takes the star on top of her Christmas tree ensemble and it flies out into the audience.

If you think it can’t get any worse well then you would be wrong because despite all these flaws in performance the Pink Ladies (plus surplus movie extras) and the T-Birds both win the competition. Only in a musical would this plausibly happen.

TM, ¨ & Copyright © 1998 by Paramount Pictures.  All Rights Reserved.

Quite clearly you can see that I know that this is unrealistic yet I still find it much more believable than the final scene of Grease when the car, known as Grease Lightning, flies. My reason for this is because Grease was set in 1959. The Russians had only sent Sputnik into orbit two years earlier so there is no way that a high school mechanics class could have created an aerodynamic car.

So yes, these are the things that I have learnt from Grease 2 and why I think you should love this movie as much as I do.

the-wrong-knickersTitle: The Wrong Knickers – A Decade of Chaos

Author: Bryony Gordon

Pages: 320 Pages

Publisher: Headline Review

The Blurb

Bryony Gordon survived her adolescence by dreaming about the life she’d have in her twenties: the perfect job; the lovely flat; the amazing boyfriend. The reality was something of a shock. Her Telegraphcolumn was a diary of her daily screw-ups; she lived in a series of squalid shoe boxes; and her most meaningful relationship of the entire decade was with a Marlboro Light.

Here in the Sunday Times bestselling THE WRONG KNICKERS Bryony busts open the glamorized myth of what it means to be a young (perpetually) single girl about London town, and shares the horrible and hilarious truth. The truth about picking up a colleague at the STI clinic; sinking into debt to fund a varied diet of wine, crisps and vodka; and how it feels when your dream man turns out to be a one night stand who hands you someone else’s knickers in the morning.

Bryony’s wonderfully ridiculous and ultimately redemptive story is essential reading for everyone whose ‘best years’ weren’t quite what they were expecting…

The Review

Margaret Mitchell has been quoted as saying that “life is under no obligation to give us what we expect.” And for Bryony Gordon this couldn’t be more apt; life hasn’t turned out the way she expected it to. She is in her twenties, her prime, the best years of her life and she is screwing it up royally. She is in debt, she is using drugs, she is drunk half the time (and hung over the other half) and you know what? She is having a bloody good time. The only problem is that she expected to be/have so much more by now. She hasn’t got her life together. She isn’t married; she doesn’t have the house and the 2.4 children or a comfortable amount of money in the bank and the years seem to be dwindling away as quickly as the bottles of wine she orders with her dinner.

For most, your twenties are for having fun, trying new things without the pressures of parents and education; with just the freedom of knowing you can do whatever it is you damn well want. This is a period of your life when essentially you are just a teenager with a credit card. And Bryony Gordon exemplifies that perfectly.

The Wrong Knickers is chock full of tales of sexual misadventure, recreational drug use and a total disregard for matters of health. As Gordon invites you into her twenties with unadulterated candour you feel like you are having a conversation with her and that she is confiding in you as only a close friend does. You become charmed by Gordon and her story becomes all the more relevant for two reasons. The first being because it is a true account of her life; secondly because it is far too easy to relate to the things she has done mainly because you have done half of them yourself.

As memoirs go, The Wrong Knickers has to be one of my favourites. I laughed out loud many a time and quite alarmingly recognised myself in Gordon at too many junctures in the book. What Gordon manages to do, in her own self-effacing way, is make the reader feel normal; whether that reader is currently in their twenties and feeling completely lost or if they are older and have managed to get past that feeling of utter hopelessness. Maybe they are reading from a standpoint of having their life together and are fondly looking back on all the mistakes and mishaps they made to get them there. Essentially what this book does is it allows us to realise that mistakes are a part of life, a part of our own story and every one of them has lead us to where we are today. For that, I thank you Bryony Gordon.

Follow Bryony Gordon (@bryony_gordon) on Twitter.

For more titles from Headline Review (@headlinepg) please visit the official website www.headline.co.uk.

4 Stars

 

The Lemon GroveTitle: The Lemon Grove

Author: Helen Walsh

Pages: 288 Pages

Publisher: Tinder Press

The Blurb

Sun. Desire. Obsession. An explosive, intelligent novel from the prize-winning author of Brass.

One hot summer. One week in a villa on the outskirts of Deia, a village nestling in the rugged, mountainous west coast of the island of Mallorca. One family for whom the carefully laid jigsaw of life is about to be broken.

Jenn and her husband Greg holiday each year in Deia, enjoying languorous afternoons by the pool. But this year the equilibrium is upset by the arrival of Emma, Jenn’s stepdaughter, and her boyfriend Nathan. Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by the notion of Nathan’s youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. What follows is a highly-charged liaison that put lives and relationships in jeopardy, and a taut narrative which percolates with enough sexual tension to make it impossible to put down.

Sultry, spare and brilliantly paced, THE LEMON GROVE is a meditation on female desire, the variations of marriage, and the politics of raising other people’s children. It is the work of a writer acutely alive to the complex workings of the human heart.

The Review

Jenn is stuck in a rut. Problem is she doesn’t know she is stuck in this rut until something comes along to make her reassess her life. That something is Nathan. Set in Deia, Mallorca, a family holiday becomes a bit of a nightmare for Jenn as she develops a crush on Nathan and tries to battle her burgeoning feelings.

The idyllic background is cleverly juxtaposed with the ongoing inner turmoil of protagonist Jenn, who seems completely disaffected with her seemingly perfect life. She has a loving husband, a stepdaughter she has raised as her own yet we see little nuances throughout the narrative which suggest the sparkling exterior hides deeper secrets. Jenn wants a child of her own but fears the window of opportunity has closed. She wants to be able to discipline or make decisions regarding her petulant stepdaughter, Emma, without having her decisions overridden by her husband; indeed she wants a consistent and healthy relationship with Emma; all of the things that she lacks.

However, rather than stating what she wants she acts out. She jeopardises her marriage and her relationship with Emma. Most importantly she develops inappropriate feelings for Emma’s 17 year old boyfriend, Nathan.

The Lemon Grove is an impressive look at the boredom and disaffected feelings one can develop when reaching middle age. You feel Jenn is unimpressed with her station in life; she feels she hasn’t achieved anything of worth. The bitter taste of lemons is almost symbolic to the bitterness that she feels towards her life.

Initially I was weary of reading this book. The protagonist and the storyline seemed so far away from my own life I worried I wouldn’t enjoy it or feel anything for it. However, this is the kind of story that sucks you in. You can’t help but empathise with Jenn, who essentially becomes the villain of the piece, and the sumptuous description of the villa just transports you so seamlessly that you feel like you are there with this family.

If you are looking for a story that you can forget about once it is over, then I am afraid this one isn’t for you. This is the story that will stick in your mind long after you have turned the final page.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh is available for purchase now.

Visit Helen Walsh’s official website www.helen-walsh.co.uk for more information.

For more title from Tinder Press (@TinderPress) please visit the official website www.tinderpress.co.uk.

4 Stars