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Only for the Holidays by Abiola Bello - Review

Sunday, December 31, 2023

I saw a recommendation for this book on Twitter and bought it when it was 99p. I saved it to read over Christmas but it took me absolutely forever because I just really didn't enjoy it. I'm trying to work out whether it's just me and whether the book just wasn't a good fit for me, or whether it is actually bad. I read a few of the two and one star reviews to see if people agreed with me and actually I think that this is just somewhat of a bad book. 

The book is dual narrative, from the points of view of Quincy and Tia. Quincy lives on a farm in a rural town where his family is basically the only Black family in the area. They run the farm with several holiday cottages and have a fancy restaurant and stuff. Quincy is the youngest of three - his sister Drew is an internet sensation and his brother Cam is a DJ. Quincy is still at college. He had a girlfriend, Kali, but before the beginning of the book he found out that she slept with his best friend Simon and he hasn't spoken to either of them since. He's still heartbroken and concentrating on the horses and working and stuff, but he's pretty miserable. 

Tia lives in Peckham with her mum and sisters. Her older sister Willow and she have the same dad, who now lives in America. Their little sister, Banks, is only four. Her dad, Paul, is still around, but their Mum, Tope, and he are no longer together. Tope lost her job and the family had to move and it's all been a lot of upheaval for Tia. Tia has a boyfriend, Mike, who is a bit of a dickhead. Her best friend is called Remi and I wish we had seen more of her, to be honest. Mike is about to turn eighteen and Tia has been organising all of his party and is going to take the cake. However, Tia is feeling a bit underappreciated by him - he has never told her that he loves her and he's just a bit of a loser. He asks her for some space but she isn't really sure what that is supposed to mean. 

Then Tope announces that she's been given a two week (or even more?) trip to Quincy's farm to stay in one of the cottages. She needs the break so she takes her kids down there. But there's a mix up with the booking and the cottages are all full. Instead, Tia's family ends up staying in Quincy's house itself. Tia is not happy about the holiday and is determined to not enjoy herself - especially as she definitely doesn't like horses or sheep or the lack of internet. 

Quincy's family is holding a ball this Christmas, and it's a big deal because they're the first Black family to do so. Quincy doesn't have a date so he makes up a girl called Leah, but then of course he asks Tia for a favour. She says she will goes as his date if he will help her get back to London for Mike's party to sort everything out. They have to fake it in front of his friends and it nearly all goes wrong, but the two of them find themselves falling for each other anyway... 

I just felt like there were too many tropes in the book, including the fact that Tia loves baking and that they go ice skating and blah blah blah. It needed about half of it cutting out, I swear. 

One of my main criticisms was that this book felt like an American novel that had somehow been transported to the south of England. Some American things seemed to remain, like that every teenager had a fancy car (maybe they were just rich?) and just some other weird stuff. I also didn't get why Tia and her family had to go to the farm like at the beginning of December. Would a mum really take her kids out of school and college for so long? It did give Tia and Quincy time to get to know each other, which is why I suspect it was done, but it just didn't seem real. Maybe I needed to suspend my disbelief for the whole book, though! 

I'm giving this two out of five, unfortunately. Sorry, just not for me. 

The Winter Visitor by James Henry - Review

Thursday, December 28, 2023

I was contacted by a lovely person at Quercus Books who offered this book to me to review as they thought it would be up my street. They were right! I was provided with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes but was not otherwise compensated for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

So a man called Bruce Hopkins reappears in Essex after several years in exile in Spain, due to his part in an armed robbery. He has received a letter from his ex wife, Chloe, and he wants to see her. He visits her mum, first, who lives in this fancy mansion type of place. It's all a bit confusing and then Bruce is found dead in the boot of a stolen car that has been pushed into a reservoir. The police quickly find out that a man called Roland nicked the car for money; he was told exactly where to steal the car from at an out of the way motel, but has no idea who by. He's very recently out of prison and living with his sister Mandy. 

Also, one of the police duo who star in the book, Kenton, was bird watching when he saw a fire across the estuary and set off to it. It turns out a church roof has gone up in flames, deliberately set fire to. The vicar, Soames, immediately puts pressure on the police to solve his terrible crime. It doesn't seem like these two things are linked but then it becomes obvious they are and that they are linked to a boys school, and a pupil there in the distant past. There are parts with Roland's sister and with Bruce's ex, which become clear at the end, but they are a bit confusing in the middle. 

The book is set in 1991 which is so longer ago now that it felt like ancient history. Policing seems so  different now! The technology has come a really long way in that time, I think. There were a couple of anachronisms in my opinion but nothing too jarring. I really liked the detectives, Kenton and Brazier, and I would definitely read another book about them. I liked the WPC too, and treatment of her felt very real for the time period. 

If I have to give some criticisms it's that there are really a lot of characters in this book and it was quite hard to keep them all straight in my head which is probably why it took me so long to read. I also thought there were some parts that stretched the boundaries of coincidence just a bit too much for me. In all I'm giving this four out of five and thank you to Quercus Books for letting me read it!

Where the Heart Should Be by Sarah Crossan - Review

Saturday, December 23, 2023

I saw a tweet way back in October where the publisher was offering proofs of this book to anyone who asked, so I sent an email and was thrilled when a few weeks later I was asked for my address, and then this gorgeous book arrived later that week! I love Sarah Crossan and have read everything she's written, so was really pleased to be gifted this as well. I was provided with a copy of the book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated for my review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Like Sarah's other books, this is written in verse. It is set in 1846 in Ireland, in the middle of the potato famine. At the beginning of the book, things aren't so bad. Nell has left school and got a job at the Big House, working as a scullery maid for Lord Wicken. He is a ruthless and harsh landlord of the land that Nell's father works. She lives with her parents and her little brother Owen in a small cottage. Their potato crops are failing and they must sell the oats in order to pay their rent. People are leaving for America or Canada or even Dublin all the time. Nell's friend Rose is falling in love with Eamon. Nell's boss, Maggie, is harsh and cruel to her, and rarely gives her enough to eat. Her family is relying on Nell's wages to pay themselves, but things are getting worse and worse. 

Lord Wicken's nephew, Johnny, is new to Ireland. Little by little, he and Nell get to know each other. She wants to avoid him, but she finds him quite irresistible. Other staff are suspicious and Nell knows what her family and neighbours would think if she and Johnny actually fell in love. But the famine is getting worse and people are getting desperate. 

I did feel that the bits where Nell and Johnny are actually together were a little confusing in parts and I wasn't sure exactly what had occurred between them as the poetry was quite vague. But that's really my only critcism. Thank you Bloomsbury for the book! 

Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash by John Carter Cash - Review

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

One thing you might not know about me is that I really love Johnny Cash's music. I've been a fan for a long time now, and so is my mum. I also like quite a lot of June Carter's music, and the music of The Carter Family, too. I could probably stand to learn more of her music, but I do like her. Also, if you don't know, she wrote some of Johnny's biggest hits, like Ring of Fire! That's an absolute classic! I know a bit about their lives but not loads, so I wanted to read this book when I heard about it a few months ago. It was published in 2007, only four years after June and then Johnny died in 2003, but I hadn't heard of it until recently. I don't even remember how. But it was expensive to buy so I decided to not bother.

And then Spotify started doing audiobooks on Premium, which I have. And this was on there! So I started listening to it while on car drives by myself, and I finished it in only a few weeks. It's narrated by another country singer, who had a good and engaging voice and who really sounded like Johnny Cash at times!

It was really interesting to hear about June's early life and her place in the Carter family. The book doesn't focus too much on her previous marriages, but does talk about her daughters Carlene and Rosie and their places in the family. John Carter remembers Rosie living with them when he was little, but he also recounts her addiction and the pain that she put upon her family and especially her mother when she was ill. He talks about how all Johnny's four daughters had their place in the family too and that June pretty much accepted them all as hers. John Carter talks about being the spoilt youngest child - and only son - in the family and what that meant; I actually felt he was quite self aware here on what privileges that had given him that maybe his sisters didn't benefit from. I also think that John Carter clearly only focussed on his own parents and not on their previous spouses, because that really just didn't interest him. 

I of course knew about Johnny's addiction problems, but hearing about them through John Carter was absolutely heartbreaking. He talks about sharing a hotel room on tour with his dad when he was really quite a small child and listening to his dad's laboured breathing and that John Carter would worry that his dad had died. I feel like there was a lot of unpacked trauma here but because John Carter was just talking about his mother for the most part, he just talked about how she acted and the huge love she had for her family. It was interesting to hear about the family as a whole - their homes, their staff, their touring - as well as the bad parts. 

John Carter also suffered from addiction and he isn't quite as open about that as you would perhaps like, but it was still interesting and it still added to the story of June. I didn't know that she herself had problems with drugs towards the end of her life. The stories about her last recordings are pretty sad, actually. The part about her death was really sad, too - and then of course Johnny died just a few months later. 

I generally liked the book and I particularly liked John Carter talking about the funny things June used to say and the 'klediments' (treasures) she had in each of their houses. It was cute to hear about how his second wife made him listen to the Carter Family more - his own legacy! It's quite funny. I didn't like that there was quite a lot of fat shaming of his mother towards the end, and I do think that some of the talk of addiction and god was a bit much. But maybe that's because I'm not a believer. I'm giving this four out of five as I did like it for the most part. 

The Christmas Appeal by Janice Hallett - Review

Sunday, December 17, 2023

I got this book - which is a sequel to The Appeal - on Kindle and wanted to read it close to Christmas, as it's about a Christmas pantomime so it's definitely festive! It's a novella, so didn't take me too long to read at all. It's been described as The Appeal 1.5 which makes a lot of sense. If you like that book you would definitely like this, I think, but also if you hadn't read the appeal you would probably understand everything in this book and would still enjoy it. 

The book is told in emails and text messages, like the first one. We're back with the Fairway Players as in the first book. The Haywards have clearly gone, and the land their house was on is now a fancy new housing estate. There is also a new council housing estate on the other side of town, which not all the Players are happy about. Sarah-Jane and her husband Kevin have been voted the co chairs of the theatre group, but Celia and Joel Halliday wish they were top dogs and Celia has passive aggession down to a fine art. The Walfords - Joyce and her sons, since her husband's death - are still around, as are the Paynes. I actually don't remember too much about the Paynes but it feels like everyone looks down on them because Karen 'only' works in Sainsburys. There are a few other people I recognised, but there's some new players too. There's a youngish single man who joins, and a couple who auditioned for the play but who never turn up. They live in one of the new posh houses and everyone seems to think it's a bit of a coup that they've joined. 

Every time Sarah-Jane sends an email it's immediately followed up by one from Celia, to undermine her. Then Sarah-Jane announces that she's procurred an actual beanstalk for the pantomime, which was last used thirty years ago and at one point by the Players themselves, but which has been in storage. It needs some upkeep, but then there's a rumour that it contains asbestos! The whole thing becomes a bit of a farce at this point, and it all comes to a head on the night of the panto itself, the 23rd of December. 

As in the book before, a KC has sent information about the case to his students, Femi and Charlotte, to see what they think and what conclusion they would come to about the 'crime' - if there is a crime at all. We see their discussions between themselves and with Roger, too. It's interesting, but I'm not sure their discussions really went far enough for me. 

I did enjoy the story but I felt there were too many red herrings and random stuff shoved in, and not really enough resolution. In all I'm giving this three out of five. 

The Brewery Murders by J R Ellis - Review

Thursday, December 14, 2023

You know I love J R Ellis and have read everything his written. He writes a series focussing on DCI Jim Oldroyd and his two sergeants, Andy and Steph. Oldroyd is now living with a woman, Deborah, in Harrogate, and Andy and Steph are a couple and live together in Leeds. I love the series because of its North Yorkshire setting, which is a place very dear to me, and I love to read about it. This is the ninth book in the series, and takes place in lower Wensleydale which I visited recently! It's a lovely part of the world. 

So in this book there's a beer festival to begin with and there are two breweries present who both brew in Markham and who are rivals. The older, traditional one is run by Richard Foster, who took over from his father. His father made a beer called Wensley Glory back in the nineties which won many awards, but the recipe was lost upon his death and so Richard can't remake it. The other brewery is run by Richard's sister, Emily, and she employs mainly women. Her partner Janice works there too. The women's brewery is subjected to a lot of abuse and harassment from Richard's brewery, mainly because a lot of the men who work there don't think women should be brewing beer. A man called Brendan Scholes turns up to talk to both Richard and Emily. He used to work at Richard's brewery and his dad Wilf was the only other person who knew the missing recipe other than Foster Sr. He has recently died and Brendan says he has a copy of the recipe. He wants either Richard or Emily to pay him for it. 

However, he is then found dead in a vat of beer in the older brewery. There are any number of people who might have wanted Brendan dead, including of course Richard and Emily, who may have both wanted the recipe, if it exists, the husband of a woman that Brendan had an affair with, and any number of people who just disliked him. Oldroyd and Andy are put on the case and are helped by a young and enthusiastic DC who I think we'll see more of in future books. One of my only criticisms of this book is that there's very little Steph in it and I like her, I always want to see more of her! 

I did guess one of the major twists before Oldroyd got there, which pleased me. I found the mystery a good one and in all I'm giving it four out of five. 

The Skylight by Louise Candlish - Review

Monday, December 11, 2023

I got this Quick Reads book in a charity shop in Amble for just a pound when Lee and I were there over his birthday in August. I've enjoyed other books by Louise Candlish so thought I would give this a go. It's a novella, a short story really, and I picked it up after I made it through the slog that was Silas Marner. It was a very quick read and I really liked it! As with all short stories it left me wanting more, which I think is a mark of an excellent short story! 

Simone lives in the top half of a converted house, in a flat with two floors. Her boyfriend Jake has recently moved in with her. She has a secret - she's the only one allowed to use the top bathroom, and from there she can see the dining table of her downstairs neighbours because of the skylight in their extension. Jake has to use the shower room on the main floor so he doesn't know she can see into the skylight, and neither do the neighbours. And Simone absolutely HATES them.

They are a bit younger than her, and married, and successful, all of which are things which seem to trigger her. They are Alina and Gus and they are young professionals. They put the extension on which Simone didn't like, but now obsessed by what she can see. Simone hates Alina in particular, and starts stealing mail from the communal hall and other stuff like that, just to wind her up. 

Simone has a dark past - she only speaks to her cousin Paula from her family, and no one else. It's heavily hinted that she harmed someone when she was a child, but at the beginning the reader doesn't know what she did. Then she sees something through the skylight that sends her even more off the rails and she wants to get revenge, which has tragic consequences. I won't give spoilers but this is a twisty and delicious short story. I especially liked how it was told from Simone's point of view, as she's a very unreliable narrator. I'm giving this four out of five. 

The Haunting Scent of Poppies by Victoria Williamson - Review and Blog Tour

Friday, December 8, 2023

Hello and welcome to my post for this tour for Victoria Williamson's brilliant new ghost story, The Haunting Scent of Poppies. I signed up for this tour because I've really enjoyed everything I've previously read by Victoria and also because I really like ghost stories! This novella is less than a hundred pages long, but it fits a lot in in that time! It's set at Christmas too so it helped get me into a festive mood. 

The book is set the first Christmas after World War One ended, which had ended obviously just a few weeks earlier. Charlie didn't serve as a soldier and in fact is very scathing of those who did. He is a small time thief who has had to escape London due to his crimes, and has arrived in Petersfield just a few days before Christmas. He needs to lie low to escape the heat, but he also doesn't have a lot of spare cash. He plans on robbing a few shops or something, and he finds a book shop that is barely open. He talks to the owner and the assistant, and happens to notice that the owner is reading a very rare book. Stealing the book and selling it on would set Charlie up for quite a while, so he manages to make that happen. He takes it back to his hotel, where he has several other of his ill gotten gains - a fancy watch, a sharp suit, a bag. And then of course the book. He falls asleep, and when he wakes up all the stolen stuff is gone, except for the book. Charlie assumes he has been robbed, and possibly that he was sedated, as he's suffering some weird effects.

He has to leave the hotel suddenly and ends up in a downtrodden B&B. It turns out that the book belonged to the nephew of the owner there and that he died in the trenches. Charlie begins to see flashbacks of this, and is haunted by something very, very weird. The ghost in this story is all too real and believable. I really liked it. I'm giving this four out of five, and I'm so glad I was on this tour! Victoria Williamson just keeps writing amazing stuff! 

Jiddy Vardy by Ruth Estevez - Review and Blog Tour

Monday, December 4, 2023

Hello and welcome to my stop on the tour for Jiddy Vardy by Ruth Estevez. My post was supposed to go up yesterday but unfortunately something happened in my personal life and I didn't get round to it. I'm very sorry, but I really did enjoy this book and am glad to be on the tour!

The book is sat in the late 1700s and starts on a ship where a baby has just been born, to Maria, who is only sixteen herself. Pirates board the ship and the baby is put in a cupboard to hide her, and the captain, Captain Pinkney, takes over the ship. Maria is terrified, of course... 

Then we meet up with the baby, Jiddy, first of all when she is eight years old, when she is bullied by some other girls for being different, and then when she is sixteen. She was adopted by Mary and her husband, who are poor people who live in Robin Hood's Bay on the north coast of Yorkshire. They are also involved in the local smuggling ring, and Jiddy gets involved too. She is darker skinned and haired than everyone else in Robin Hood's Bay and is bullied for that, especially by one local girl, Nellie. She gets the chance to work for the local lady of the manor and has to go up against Nellie for the chance. 

She knows smuggling is wrong but she also resents the local military who are trying to stop it. They are preventives (I don't know a lot of the military history but it was interesting) but then they get replaced by dragoons who, it seems, are meaner, nastier, and just a lot worse. But Jiddy's life crashes up against one in particular... 

She has been half in love with a local farm boy, Jonas, since she was very little, but the two start getting a lot closer over the course of the book. 

I liked the story a lot. I liked Jiddy and how full of life she was. I loved the setting as I know Robin Hood's Bay and think it's a beautiful part of the world. My only critique is that a LOT happened in the pages, but I do get it. I am giving this four out of five and really recommend it!

The third book in this series came out on the 2nd of December, and I would utterly recommend it. Here's the blurb for it:

When the sea can’t be put on trial for murder, who must pay the price?


A smuggler with a conscience, the defiant and contradictory Jiddy Vardy sets out to find choices and freedom for local girls worn thin by poverty.


Caught in the net that is Robin Hood’s Bay, Jiddy looks to majestic York, little realising that even loved ones can cage you when they think they are offering the chance of a lifetime.

Head inland to the promise of work, out to sea to the unknown, or stay in a close-knit community of smugglers and familiar faces?

What’s it to be for our endlessly curious, yet ultimately open-hearted Jiddy Vardy?


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