Synopsis

When Sybil is invited by her friend Cher to spend a few days in Tindale, a tiny village where Cher and her partner Clive run the local pub, Sybil jumps at the chance. Lately, all Sybil has done is mope about how tragic her life is; her fiancé ran out on her – on their wedding day no less, and to make it worse he ran off with her identical twin sister; the mounting debt from the wedding that never was is still having to be dealt with and to top it all off Sybil seriously believes that she has made a giant cock-up at work which will cost the great British taxpayer £42,000 – whoopsie.

Yes the best thing for Sybil is to get away from it all. However, what Sybil soon realises is that country life is a lot more complex than the anonymity that London affords. Sybil is quickly immersed in the ways of the close knit community and soon has to deal with the fact that everybody – absolutely everybody has their own demons to deal with.

Review

Having previously read books by Alexandra Brown I was immediately put at ease because I knew I was in for a treat. Brown always manages to find the heart of the story an make you fall in love – not only with the characters but with their stories, their problems and their sheer will power. My favourite thing about Brown’s writing is her ability to make me fall in love with her settings. I am not one for the quiet country life and will always be a city girl but I could imagine myself living in the sleepy town of Tindale and – shock horror – being happy there. Kudos to you,  Alexandra Brown.

Another thing that I really enjoy about Brown’s writing – and something that she has expressed especially well in The Great Christmas Knit Off – is how she captures real life problems. She doesn’t overwhelm you with sadness and heartbreak but she reveals the inner strength of her characters and it becomes inspiring. The way the community rallied around Hettie in her hour of need shows the warmth and generosity of people which we sometimes forget about. She also manages to have inherently flawed characters that remain likeable. You could argue that Sybil has a classic case of avoidance about her own problems yet even though she buries her head in the sand she still has the time and good grace to help others in need.

It is these key features that are at the heart of Alexandra Brown’s novels and it is also why I absolutely love picking them up to read.

The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown is available November 6th, 2014.

You can follow Alexandra Brown on Twitter @alexbrownbooks

The Great Christmas Knit Off

Exactly one week ago today I completed one of the things that was festering on my bucket list. To most of you who read this, what I am about to say will not be much of an achievement. However, for me, this has been a massive but much neglected goal. Last week I had my final dental procedure.

My fear of the dentist started at a very young age. I was taken for my very first appointment before the age of five and all I remember from that appointment was that I was held down in the chair with the gas mask forced on my face. The whole trauma of this appointment was supposed to pacified by the Wendy house that was given for being a brave girl. This did little to make me feel better.

Since that one appointment I have tried to avoid the dentist at all costs. When I was told at the age of seven that I would need seven teeth removed I stood my ground and refused to go. Well, I metaphorically stood my ground – in actual fact when my dad tried to take me to our family dental clinic I forcefully grabbed onto a bollard in the street and refused to let go. Now being a very obedient child who infrequently caused trouble my father new that I meant business.

You could argue that this is when all my problems began. I would only ever go to the dentist when I was in pain and therefore associated dentists with excruciating mind-numbing pain. My following experiences were not pleasant.

On one occasion, after having to go to the emergency dentist, I was six needles into the numbing process when the needle broke in my mouth. The dentist promised me that this almost never happens…yet it had to happen to me. This did not build up my faith in those that practice dentistry.

Another time, admittedly due to my own negligence, a cluster of abscesses had built up under a dead tooth. With my severely swollen face I went, once again, to the emergency dentist who had to use a strange hoover-like device to suck the poison out. It was nasty.

Strangely, it was neither of these experiences that made me put on my big girl pants and actually force myself get my teeth sorted. Instead, it was the following incident.

On another “emergency dentist” appointment, the dentist accidentally chipped the tooth next to the tooth that she was extracting. Now rather than getting this sorted I allowed it to rot away and once again I had another dead tooth. When the front of this tooth fell off earlier this year I knew, just knew, I had to do something about it otherwise I would run the risk of looking like Amy Winehouse or even worse, a guest on the Jeremy Kyle show.

I knew the only way to get me in the chair was to go private. This may seem a rather random thing to say but I hate wasting money and if I knew that I had to pay for something then I would follow it through. Two good friends (Rebecca Rainbow and Katy Hays) both recommended Ollie and Darsh. They knew how scared I was and assured me that I had nothing to worry about and to give them a go.

So of I went. What initially struck me was that the place didn’t smell. The smell of dentist (which ironically is a smell of cleanliness) always turned my stomach and filled me with dread and panic. So far, so good – I hadn’t ran out of the place screaming with sweat and panic oozing out of me. Instead, I had my initial appointment with Suzi. I was initially put at ease as she explained the process of how Ollie and Darsh worked. Everything was up to me. The dentists – Ollie and Darsh – would give me advice about what procedures I needed but it was up to me if and when we decided to go through with it.

With that being said, I booked in for my second appointment – this time with Ollie – and I was told that I needed quite a few procedures. I needed: two cleanings, a tooth extraction, three fillings, a root canal, and the procedure to build the crown on the dead tooth. It was probably the fact that they could save my rotted tooth that swung it for me. I decided to go with Ollie and Darsh.

It took a few months for me to actually start my procedure because I was hospitalised shortly after my appointment with Ollie. However, Ollie and Darsh were so accommodating – they waited until I was healthy enough to start my smile plan.

Admittedly, with every procedure I was nervous. Heck, it is hard to suddenly let go of 30 years of fear, however, once I started going to Ollie and Darsh more regularly I actually started to look forward to my appointments. Without sounding too overzealous, it was like going for a spa day but for my mouth.

The dentists never hurt me, they were gentle and reassuring and I felt like everything was on my terms.

Besides the great work that Ollie and Darsh do (who by the way should not just be thought of as dentists but architects of the mouth – seriously, they are artists) the support staff were equally as lovely and reassuring.  From dental nurses, hygienists and support staff, they always had a kind or encouraging words or time for me.

The cynical among you readers would argue that this is a business and the livelihood depends on the good manners and procedures of the staff but I don’t necessarily think that it is just training. I personally felt that each member of the Ollie and Darsh team cared about not only my dental plan but also about how I was doing. It is these small things that go a long way with me. I am genuinely saddened that I have no more procedures booked in for the future.

Going to Ollie and Darsh and getting my teeth sorted has genuinely been the best thing that I have done this year and if anyone does have a fear of the dentist I would implore you to check them out and give them a try. Let them help you find your smile.

You can also check out their website for more information www.ollieanddarsh.co.uk

You can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OllieandDarsh

You can also follow Ollie and Darsh on Twitter @ollieanddarsh

 

Synopsis

When Jam Gallahue is sent to The Wooden Barn – a therapy centre for teenagers – she feels like her world is ending yet again, she is being ripped away from her family; just like Reeve Maxfield was ripped away from her. She has been sent to this facsimile of a boarding school to get over her “trauma” but the last thing Jam wants to do is get over Reeve.

Her class schedule has her down for an exclusive course called Special Topics in English – and it is only during that class that Jam (along with fellow classmates) really begin to deal with their own personal grief.

Review

I had wanted to read Belzhar for a long time and yes I will admit that I was entranced by the cover more than the blurb. However, once I read the blurb I was full of hope that the book would live up to the front and back cover.

It genuinely did.

I have never read a book by Meg Wolitzer before but I was utterly blown away by this story. The concept was so unusual but executed so very well. I had total belief that the events that took place in between these pages could happen. I fully immersed myself in the world at The Wooden Barn and I truly believed in the power of writing as a healing method (granted the last one was a long standing belief but it applies to this book too).

The gentle touches of magic realism were captivating. They weren’t oppressive or questionable and if anything helped lend a level of empathy to everyone’s individual story. It would be easy to just label this book as a coming of age drama in which the plights and teenage angst of certain individuals help the story move along. To do that though you would be completely trivialising what is in fact a rather impressive story.

It has made me want to read more of Wolitzer’s books.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer is available now.

 

Synopsis

No one could accuse Scarlett O’Brien of having a boring life. Recently she has sought out her long lost mother, ran out on her fiancé on their wedding day and fell completely in love with another man. This is the stuff of movie plots…which is kind of fitting because Scarlett O’Brien loves the movies. However, over the past few months life has settled down. It is not exactly humdrum but it is certainly less dramatic than it has been in the past.

Scarlett is a stuck in a bit of a rut but when her boyfriend Sean talks her into going to New York for a week to see her dad she jumps at the chance and  new adventure (in the only way that Scarlett can cause an adventure) happens and the drama of Scarlett O’Brien returns with a vengeance.

Review

Having only just recently read the predecessor to this book I had second book anxiety. There was no way that I was going to love this book more than the first one. How wrong can a girl be? Ali McNamara nailed it with this sequel. If anything, it is a much more accomplished novel than From Notting Hill with Love…Actually.

Scarlett is such a determined character yet it is often her dogged determination that gets her into all of these scrapes yet somehow she manages to turn things around and make them work for her.

I did start to get a little angry with our heroine midway through the novel as I thought that one of her decisions was running the risk of ruining her relationship with Sean and I really like the character of Sean but as I said earlier Scarlett manages to somehow make things work out for her.

I think what made this book superior to the first one (which by the way was pretty darn fantastic) is that Scarlett has a change in her character in the fact that she is so much more selfless. Her actions in the first book without being selfish were self motivated. In From Notting Hill to New York…Actually we see her as so much more pure and altruistic.

It is this fact and once again hr series of wacky misadventures that make the Actually books so entertaining. I am so excited to read the third in the series – From Notting Hill with Four Weddings…Actually – which was released last week.

From Notting Hill with Love…Actually, From Notting Hill to New York…Actually and From Notting Hill with Four Weddings…Actually by Ali McNamara are all available now.

 

Phew, I am so glad that last week is over. Well I am and I am also kinda bummed out too. Let me explain. Last week was littered with medical woes. My pyoderma gangrenosum returned with a vengeance which made my dermatologist go crazy with worry and then she rang my gastroenterologist who then put me in for an emergency appointment. Basically, it got all kinds of messy. However, that part of the week is over and I am glad.

The reason that I am sad about this week being over is because I have just had a lovely weekend away with my lovely boyfriend and that is over too. Boo hiss. Long distance can really suck. However, I had the most amazing time with him this weekend in our nation’s great capital so I can’t be too sad.

So as for reading, I managed to get through a few books this week. Here are the books that I got through:

From Notting Hill with Love…Actually by Ali McNamara

The Wives of Beverly Row: Lust Has a New Address by Abby Weeks

From Notting Hill to New York…Actually by Ally McNamara (review later this week)

I’m currently reading Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer which is a book I have wanted to read for ages and I am loving it so far.

On this week’s to be read pile I have a fair few books which I probably won’t get through but I am going to give it a damn good try. I have a week off this week so hopefully I will have some time to get through more books than usual.

Billy Joel by Fred Schruers (384 pages)

Beau, Lee, The Bomb & Me by Mary McKinley (252 pages)

High Notes: A Rock Memoir by Richard Loren (270 pages)

Actually on second thoughts that isn’t that many. However, I did fail in reviewing a festive book last week so I need to do at least two this week and I have my next short story to read for #ShortStorySaturday and I want to read the third book in the Love Actually series so I guess I am back to having a busy week.

I would like to take a moment to mention a challenge that I have recently taken up. My lovely friend Clare from A Book and Tea has got me involved in the £5 challenge. Basically I have £5 a week to spend on books. No more, no less. I originally took up the challenge because it sounded like fun and I really like Clare but I also did it because I have a serious book buying addiction and I thought that this could be a way of curbing the habit and you know what, it seriously has. I have been a lot more conscious of my purchases. With only £5 to spend and a theme for the week it means I can’t just click the Buy Now with one Click button willy-nilly. So a big massive thank you to Clare and also to implore all of you that may be reading this to get involved; it is such a fun challenge to be a part of plus it is saving you that extra moolah before Christmas.

I hope you all have a great week of reading.

Much bookish love,

L x x