Wish I was there: What not to miss at Hay Festival

 

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Hay Festival kicks off today and runs from 25th May – 4th June 2017. Sadly, I can’t make it but I thought I’d put together a list of the events I think you should check out / ones I wish I was attending!

At the time of posting all of the below events still had tickets for sale.

Hay Festival

 

Simon Murray and Friends: The National Trust manual of housekeeping – show and tell
5.30pm, 26th May 2017

What is this for? And how do I clean it? The National Trust’s Director of Curatorship and his team of expert conservator colleagues display and demonstrate some of the most wonderful and eccentric household items from their collections. They’ll offer advice on anything you’d like to bring along.

Rose Tremain talks to Peter Florence
5.30pm, 31st May 2017

The novelist revisits her 2008 masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize and selected as one of the Festival’s 30 Essential Reads of the past 30 years. ‘Lev is on his way from Eastern Europe to Britain, seeking work. Behind him loom the figures of his dead wife, his beloved young daughter and his outrageous friend Rudi. Ahead of Lev lies the deep strangeness of the British: their hostile streets, their clannish pubs, their obsession with celebrity. London holds out the alluring possibility of friendship, sex, money and a new career and, if Lev is lucky, a new sense of belonging….’

Alison Weir – Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession
1pm, 1st June 2017

The second novel in the popular historian’s Six Tudor Queens series mines the story of Anne Boleyn, the young woman who changed the course of history. Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love. But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game. Chaired by Phil Rickman.

30 years of Rebus: Ian Rankin talks to SJ Parris
4pm, 3rd June 2017

The big tent morphs into the Oxford Bar for the afternoon, as we pull up a stool and celebrate the enduring brilliance of Rankin’s great Edinburgh detective creation.

John Boyne: The Heart’s Invisible Furies
1pm, 4th June 2017

Boyne’s new novel spans 80 years of Irish history. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, Cyril Avery will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home and a country. Boyne is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Absolutist. He talks to Peter Florence.

Are you going to the Hay Festival? If so, I’d love to hear what events you’re going to and what your highlights were.

Blog Tour: Obsession by Amanda Robson

 

@AvonBooks UK @HarperCollinsUK @LadySion #BlogTour #BookReview

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Obsession by Amanda Robson.

About the book… 

Obsession

One evening, a wife asks her husband a question: who else would you go for, if you could?

It is a simple question – a little game – that will destroy her life.

Carly and Rob are a perfect couple. They share happy lives with their children and their close friends Craig and Jenny. They’re lucky. But beneath the surface, no relationship is simple: can another woman’s husband and another man’s wife ever just be good friends?

Little by little, Carly’s question sends her life spiralling out of control, as she begins to doubt everything she thought was true. Who can she trust? The man she has promised to stick by forever, or the best friend she has known for years? And is Carly being entirely honest with either of them?

Paperback: 1st June 2017 – you can pre-order here
Published by: Avon Books

My thoughts…

I absolutely raced through Obsession. A fast paced read, the story is full of twists and turns and is told from four perspectives by the two couples, Rob, Carly, Jenny and Craig, which I loved. The story is made up of a tangled web of deceit, domestic unhappiness, sexual deviance and bad decisions. Obsession is a dark domestic thriller that I definitely recommend reading.

4/5

Give it a go if you enjoyed: One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis or What Alice Knew by TA Cotterell

I’m also lucky enough to be able to share a short extract with you today – I hope you enjoy it!

Rob is away. Jenni is away. The children are all at my house for a blast – as much fun as it is possible for young people to have. I have taken them to Snakes and Ladders again. I hope they don’t get fed up of it. I can’t cope with looking after so many children if I have to do anything more strenuous. I’ve taken them to McDonalds, too. I have let them choose a bag of sweets each at the sweet shop on Church Street, the old-fashioned one with a bow window, black and white floor tiles and rows of jars containing everything from aniseed balls to toffee bon-bons. Now they are wide-eyed with exhaustion, ready for bed, sitting in a row on our sofa watching a weird cartoon, a cross between Pokémon and Frozen. If Jenni knew about the sugar they’ve eaten I know she wouldn’t approve. Her nose would wriggle in that strange way I used to think was cute. I am sick of the bitch-whore’s tricks – wriggling her nose like Samantha in Bewitched.

I open a bottle of wine while the children watch the end of the cartoon. Just one glass before Craig arrives. It slips down so quickly; I can’t have poured as much as I thought, so I top it up. Melon and blackcurrant. Perhaps a hint of raspberry. As soon as the cartoon is over, I snap off the TV. I stand up and try and look jovial, smiling like one of those inane CBeebies presenters.

‘Race time. Upstairs and into bed. The winner gets a surprise tomorrow.’

And so they hurtle past me, squealing and shoving. I have to intervene as Luke is almost pushed down the stairs. Pippa is the winner. Matt and John whinge. Mark and Luke don’t complain; they have been well trained by Jenni. They clean their teeth and snuggle into bed like a pair of little angels. As soon as I’ve got them all settled, the doorbell rings.

Craig.

He is here. Stepping into my hallway, handing me a bottle of Merlot and a bunch of pink carnations. He plants a kiss on each of my cheeks, irradiating me with the scent of his after­shave. I thank him and he follows me into our compact, candlelit kitchen where the table is laid for supper. I retrieve the opened wine from the sitting room, surprised to see that only half of the bottle is left, and pour us two large glasses. He watches me serve up the oysters I nipped off to buy while the children were choosing sweets. I’ve never liked them, they taste of seawater, but Jenni once told me they were Craig’s favourite. So tonight, oysters it is.

You can see the other bloggers posts here:

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Blog Tour: The Search by Howard Linskey

#BlogTour #BookReview @PenguinUKBooks @HowardLinskey @JennyPlatt90

Hello and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Search by Howard Linskey – I’ve got a review of the book for you today. Enjoy!

A bit about the book…

TheSearchCover

Someone knows where the bodies are buried…

Little Susan Verity went missing during the heatwave of 1976. An unprecedented amount of police resource went into finding her, but to no avail. Until now. 

Convicted serial killer Adrian Wicklow was always the prime suspect. In the past, he’s repeatedly lied to the police about where Susan’s body is buried – playing a sick game from behind bars. But this time, he says, he’ll tell the truth. Because Adrian Wicklow is dying.

Detective Ian Bradshaw works with investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney to find the body. However, this is Wicklow’s life’s work. Would a murderer on death’s door give up his last secret so easily…?

The Search is the third book in the series, with No Name Lane and Behind Dead Eyes preceding it. If you’ve not read any of Linskey’s previous books, don’t fear as The Search works wonderfully as a standalone novel.

Paperback: 4th May 2017
Published by: Penguin Books

My thoughts… 

Set in Durham and centred around the case of missing Susan Verity, The Search is told from multiple perspectives – which I’m a huge fan of – as Detective Ian Bradshaw teams up with investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney to solve the 20 year old, re-opened mystery.

Early on, Bradshaw is sent to the prison where the terminally ill, suspected murderer Adrian Wicklow is locked up. The mind games begin as Wicklow gives Bradshaw an audio recording of his ‘real story’, promising that it would lead him to the missing bodies. This game of cat and mouse made me squirm; it was intense and angry, played out so well by the two characters, making my heart beat and my blood boil.

Wicklow is an intriguingly devious character, with a complex and troubled disposition. I found it fascinating how Howard Linskey portrayed him, as well as the affect that his personality had on DS Bradshaw – the more that he is exposed to Wicklow’s evil side, the more the case starts encroaching on his personal life, with the onset of night terrors. I was also fascinated by Helen and Tom’s relationship and was hoping for a different outcome (I won’t say any more as I don’t want to spoil any of the plot!). The parallel storyline of the mystery woman meant there was always lots going on, keeping me thoroughly interested throughout the book.

Whilst the story is a slow burner, it is also full of great dialogue and accurate descriptions. The Search is full of plot twists and the clues slowly unfold into a surprising conclusion. This book has everything I love (and want!) from a crime thriller: gritty characters, multiple perspectives, a shifting time narrative and parallel plots.

The Search gets a big thumbs up from me!

4/5

Give this a go if you enjoyed: Ragdoll by Daniel Cole or Ashes to Ashes by Paul Finch

About Howard Linskey: Howard Linskey is the author of the David Blake series, the first of which, The Drop, was selected as one of the ‘Top Five Crime Thrillers of the Year’ by The Times, and he has been called “one of the most commanding crime fiction practitioners at work today” by the Financial Times. His latest, The Search is out next week. Perfect for fans of gritty BBC Drama’s Broadchurch and The Fall, The Search is completely gripping and works brilliantly as a standalone title.

The Search blog tour has one more stop tomorrow (11th May), but you can find the other stops here:

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I received an advanced copy of The Search from the publishers in exchange for a fair an unbiased review. 

Mental Health Awareness Week

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week (8th-14th May), a topic that has always interested me and been close to my heart. A major new study by the Mental Health Foundation discovered that over two-thirds of Britons say that they have experienced a mental health problem, with younger people more likely than those over the age of 55 to say that they have experienced an issue. Whilst people are becoming increasingly open and sharing their mental health stories, many people still think talking about mental health is taboo and there’s a big job to be done in raising awareness.

Today I’ve put together a roundup of some books that I’ve read to educate myself and that I’ve found both really interesting and enlightening. I haven’t got the last one on the list, but had to include it as it looks like a great tool for helping manage your own mental health.

As usual, I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of the below and your thoughts on them.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

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Mad Girl is a shocking, funny, unpredictable, heart-wrenching, raw and jaw-droppingly truthful celebration of life with mental illness. Bryony Gordon has OCD. It’s the snake in her brain that has told her ever since she was a teenager that her world is about to come crashing down: that her family might die if she doesn’t repeat a phrase 5 times, or that she might have murdered someone and forgotten about it. It’s caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. And Bryony is sick of it. Keeping silent about her illness has given it a cachet it simply does not deserve, so here she shares her story with trademark wit and dazzling honesty.

Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax

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Ruby Wax – comedian, writer and mental health campaigner – shows us how our minds can jeopardise our sanity. With her own periods of depression and now a Masters from Oxford in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy to draw from, she explains how our busy, chattering, self-critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and stress. If we are to break the cycle, we need to understand how our brains work, rewire our thinking and find calm in a frenetic world. Helping you become the master, not the slave, of your mind, here is the manual to saner living.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

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Susannah Cahalan was a happy, clever, healthy twenty-four-year old. Then one day she woke up in hospital, with no memory of what had happened or how she had got there. Within weeks, she would be transformed into someone unrecognizable, descending into a state of acute psychosis, undergoing rages and convulsions, hallucinating that her father had murdered his wife; that she could control time with her mind. Everything she had taken for granted about her life, and who she was, was wiped out. This is Susannah’s story of her terrifying descent into madness and the desperate hunt for a diagnosis, as, after dozens of tests and scans, baffled doctors concluded she should be confined in a psychiatric ward. It is also the story of how one brilliant man, Syria-born Dr Najar, finally proved – using a simple pen and paper – that Susannah’s psychotic behaviour was caused by a rare autoimmune disease attacking her brain.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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Aged 24, Matt Haig’s world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again. A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth. “I wrote this book because the oldest cliches remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it …Words, just sometimes, really can set you free.

The Wellbeing Journal: Creative Activities to Inspire by Mind

Wellbeing journal

Explore your inner world and be inspired with The Wellbeing Journal. Developed in partnership with Mind, the mental health charity, each page of this gorgeous journal has been thoughtfully crafted and it includes activities, colouring, drawing prompts, contemplative quotes and lots of space for you to write about your own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Creativity and reflection can have a powerful, positive influence on our lives. Now, with The Wellbeing Journal, you can enjoy practising these skills every day and wherever you go.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, or you’re worried about someone you know there is plenty of help available through both Mental Health and Mind.

April Reads

It feels such a long time since I last wrote a monthly wrap-up post. I’ve had a funny month for reading – whilst I’ve managed to read a similar amount to previous months, it has felt stilted.

I’ve had days of no reading at all and then I’ve gone through sudden bursts of reading all day and all night until I couldn’t consume any more, until I physically couldn’t keep my eyes open. This month I’m hoping to read a bit more consistently and will be aiming for a manageable chunk each day! I’ve got LOTS of review books piling up for June releases, so my (rather ambitious?) aim is to read a book every other day in May. So far I’ve already ticked off two novels, hopefully I can achieve this.

How Much the Heart Can Hold (Sceptre) – 3/5
By Carys Bray, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Bernardine Evaristo, Grace McCleen, Donal Ryan, Nikesh Shukla, D. W. Wilson

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This collection of short stories explores how love is not a singular concept. Each story is penned by a different author and looks at different types of love, from Agape (love for humanity) to Philautia (self-love). I adored the stories by Carys Bray and Nikesh Shuklah – they were real, brimming with humanity, they stuck with me and left me wanting to read more by these authors. Bray’s story in particular conveyed so much in so few pages, it even made me well up! However overall I felt that this collection of short stories was uneven and some of the other stories had too much magical realism in them for me, particularly as I prefer realist collections. Unfortunately on this occasion I preferred the concept of the collection rather than the process of reading it.

Ashes to Ashes by Paul Finch (Avon) – 3/5 

Ashes to Ashes is book number six in DS Mark Heckenburg series and is a thrill-a-minute detective story packed full of gory action. We follow Heck from London to his hometown of Bradburn on his mission to catch the killer. I took part in the blog tour for Ashes to Ashes and you can read an extract of the book here.

Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous (NLVI Publishers) – 2/5

A story of a misogynistic sociopath, this book didn’t do anything for me. I got annoyed by the narrator’s incessant whining. It was a short book at only 143 pages but still felt like a slog to get through, which for me is never a good sign! As I said in my full review, I think this is a marmite book – you either love it or hate it.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber) – 3/5

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I don’t know where to start with this one. It’s epic, it’s lyrical, it’s expansive. Barry’s writing is beautiful and often made me pause to reread swathes of sections. It was full of suffering, wartime carnage and love; some of the dialogue, thoughts and feelings made my heart hurt. There were parts I sped through, however on top of this there were also parts which felt extended, never-ending and perhaps that was Barry’s intention – after all, we follow two soldiers and lovers into civil war that spans many, many years.

I honestly felt so conflicted when I finished this. I wanted to love it, but I just didn’t quite connect with the characters. I think I might have to reread this in the future when I’ve got more time to concentrate on it and absorb it. If you’re looking for something a bit different I’d recommend this as Barry’s writing style is like nothing I’ve read before – on top of that it won the Costa Prize and I know that many, many people have loved Days Without End.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Tinder Press) – 4/5

Effortless to read and brilliantly claustrophobic See What I Have Done is the fictional retelling of the alleged Lizzie Borden murders. This is an absolutely cracking debut and one that you should go out and buy asap! The lovely folk at Tinder Press are doing a huge marketing campaign around the book and I’m positive it will have great mainstream success. You can read more about the story here.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Vintage) – 5/5

This was my favourite book of the month by far; the story sung to me. A tender tale about the complexities of friendship and overcoming circumstance, Gustav and Anton’s lives are at the heart of this book. Split into three parts, we journey through their friendship, their love and their lifelong commitment to one another. Set in a post WWII Switzerland, it starts in kindergarten when the two children meet, the narrative then shifts back in time to look at the relationship between Gustav’s parents and later it goes forward to them as two grown men. Tremain pens humanity and pain on the pages so exquisitely – so much so that her writing flawed me, with the last paragraph making me cry happy tears. This was my first foray into Tremain’s writing and I am so happy and excited that I have the rest of her books ahead of me to discover. I’d love to do a full review of this but I just don’t think I’ll be able to do it justice.

Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books) – 4/5

Six Stories

I first heard about Six Stories through Twitter and I was immediately interested in reading it as the book was getting loads of great reviews from bloggers that I trust. First of all, this is such a unique concept for a crime novel; inspired by the podcast Serial, Six Stories takes historical crimes and dissects them through six individual ‘podcasts’ which are set out as chapters within the book. Wesolowski creates a haunting landscape at Scarclaw Fell and as we delve deeper into the crime committed we learn the part that each character played. The web grows larger and as readers we’re encouraged to make our own mind up about the fateful day that Tom Jeffries died. Six Stories is inventive, mysterious and full of horror. Also, Orenda Books publishes some absolute corkers, they always have stunning cover art – definitely one to check out if you’re on the hunt for a fantastic independent publisher.

Obsession by Amanda Robson (Avon) – 4/5 

One evening, a wife asks her husband a question: who else would you go for, if you could? It is a simple question – a little game – that will destroy her life. Obsession is an explosive psychological thriller. I’ll be taking part in the blog tour for Obsession later this month, so I don’t want to give too much away here! Keep your eyes peeled for my post on 19th May!

As usual, I’d love to hear what you’ve read this month. Do you have any recommendations for me?

Book Review: Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous

“Romance has killed more people than cancer. Okay…maybe not killed but dulled more lives.”

The story of Holden Caulfield is one of a sociopath.

Hurt people hurt people. Say Holden Caulfield was an alcoholic and Lolita was a photographer’s assistant and somehow they met in Bright Lights Big City. He’s blinded by love. She by ambition.

Diaryofanoxygen

As a result of years of pain and abuse the narrator is trapped inside his own head – after years of alcoholism, Caulfield turns to a life of sobriety. Whilst desperately trying to get his life back on track, it later gets turned upside down once more by a preying female. His world comes undone.

Written in first person, this tale is full of misogyny, arrogance and narcissism. Throughout the book the voice of the narrator got on my nerves, as he didn’t feel like an authentic character. In fact, I think the main purpose of the book was to make the reader dislike him; he wants us to pity him.

Penned by an anonymous author, I’m unsure if the story is fiction or non-fiction – the lines are blurred. It is simplistic in places, whilst being raw and full of sadness in others. Some of the things are true-to-life, whilst others are hard to ever imagine being real. Overall, I think this is a bit of a marmite book – you’re likely to either love it or hate it, sadly it just didn’t do it for me.

2/5

Author: Anonymous
Published by: NLVI Publishers
Paperback: 143 pages

May Reads: What I’ll be pre-ordering

There are so many great books coming out in May (a couple of which I’ve already reviewed on Harry’s Book Club – See What I Have Done and Love Me Not). Here’s an overview of the ones I’m most excited about that will be hitting the shelves soon, the 4th May is clearly a popular day for publishing!

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins (Transworld) – 2nd May

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In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…

You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood (Michael Joseph) – 4th May

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An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions…but at the end of the speeches, only one matters: Did he do it?

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper (Hodder & Stoughton) – 4th May

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In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building. Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers. Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief. But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37.

Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books) – 4th May

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It’s Saturday, it’s summer and, although he doesn’t know it yet, everything in Adam Thorn’s life is going to fall apart. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll find freedom from the release. Time is running out though, because way across town, a ghost has risen from the lake…This uplifting coming-of-age novel will remind you what it’s like to fall in love.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Viking) – 4th May

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Recalling Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity, Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others. Anything is Possible tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind.

What books are on your pre-order list? Do you have any recommendations for me?